How to Stop a Child from Hitting Themselves When Upset

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Raising a child is a monumental task filled with joy, challenges, triumphs, and uncertainties. 
As parents, we sometimes face situations that leave us feeling helpless or confused. 
One such situation is when your child starts hitting themselves when they're upset. It's a heart-wrenching sight, and it can make you feel lost. 
But don't worry, we're here to help.
Therapy and counseling for your child can be helpful if needed.  
This article will provide empathetic, helpful, and easy-to-understand solutions to guide you through these tough moments.

Parenting Therapists in Colorado

Hailey Gloden, MA, LPC, NCC

Hailey Gloden, MA, LPC, NCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Melanie Klinke, MA, MFTC, LPCC

Melanie Klinke, MA, MFTC, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Colorado
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Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Jessica Gutierrez-Gaytan, SWC

Jessica Gutierrez-Gaytan, SWC

Colorado
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Sarah Webster, SWC

Sarah Webster, SWC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Kimberly Nefflen, LPCC

Kimberly Nefflen, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Mackenzie Batson, LPCC

Mackenzie Batson, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Abigail Corless, LPCC

Abigail Corless, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Olivia Woodring, LPCC, NCC

Olivia Woodring, LPCC, NCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424

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Understanding the Issue

Before we dive into the solutions, it's crucial to understand why children might resort to self-harming behaviors. Kids hit themselves out of frustration, anger, or inability to express their feelings verbally. It's a way for them to release pent-up emotions.

Step-by-Step Guide to Handle the Situation

Stay Calm

Your child looks up to you for guidance. If they see you panicking, it may escalate their distress. Maintain a calm demeanor to help soothe their agitation.

Acknowledge Their Feelings

Validate their emotions. Let them know it's okay to feel upset but hitting themselves is not a healthy way to express it.

Offer Comfort

Give them a hug, hold their hand, or sit close to them. Physical comfort can help them feel safe and loved.

Teach Alternative Methods for the Child's Behavior

Guide your child towards healthier ways of expressing their feelings, like drawing, writing, or talking about it.

Set Boundaries

Make it clear that hitting oneself is not acceptable. However, do this in a loving and understanding manner, not as a punishment.

If the Self Harm Continues, then Consider Seeking Help from Professionals

If the behavior continues, consider seeking help from a psychologist or therapist who specializes in child behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions about Self-Harming Behaviors

Should I ignore my child when they hit themselves?

No, ignoring the behavior can make your child feel neglected or misunderstood. Instead, try to understand the cause and address it empathetically.

Is it normal for children to hit themselves when upset?

While it's not uncommon for children to exhibit such behavior when they're upset, it's not considered 'normal.' If it happens frequently, it's best to seek professional advice.

How can I teach my child to express their feelings healthily?

You can encourage them to draw or write about their feelings. Role-playing games can also be effective. Teaching them words to express different emotions can be very beneficial too.

Should I punish my child for hitting themselves?

Punishment isn't the solution. 

It could lead to feelings of guilt or shame. Instead, aim for understanding, patience, and teaching healthier coping mechanisms.

What is the importance of early intervention in a child's self-harming behavior?

Early intervention is crucial in managing a child's self-harming behavior. 

It allows parents and professionals to address the underlying cause of the behavior, preventing it from becoming a long-term coping mechanism. 

Early intervention can also help children grow and develop healthier emotional regulation skills.

How can deep breathing help a child who is hurting themselves?

Deep breathing is a simple yet effective coping tool for big emotions. 

When a child feels overwhelmed or has big feelings, teaching them to take deep breaths can help calm their body and mind. 

Deep breathing helps divert the child's attention away from the urge to self-harm, providing a soothing alternative.

Are there other symptoms to look out for in a child who self-harms?

Yes, other symptoms might accompany self-harming behavior. 

These can include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed, or seeming unusually isolated or withdrawn. 

These symptoms may indicate deeper emotional distress and should be addressed with professional help.

What coping tools can help older kids who self-harm?

Many coping tools can help older children manage their emotions without resorting to self-harm. 

These can include physical activities like sports or yoga, creative outlets like drawing or writing, or mindfulness practices like meditation. 

Parents should encourage older kids to start exploring these alternatives and provide a safe environment for them to express their feelings.

Should parents seek professional help if their child continues to hurt themselves?

Yes, if a child's self-harming behavior continues despite your efforts, it's essential to seek professional help. 

A mental health professional can provide further insight into the child's behavior, offer strategies for managing big emotions, and suggest appropriate interventions based on brain sciences. 

Remember, it's okay to seek help – most parents aren't equipped to handle these situations alone, and professionals are there to support both you and your child.

Potential Issues if this Self-Harming Behavior is Not Addressed

Addressing a child's self-harming behavior is crucial for their overall well-being. 

If left unaddressed, the child's self-injurious behavior can have serious physical and emotional consequences. Here are some potential outcomes:

  • Physical Injury: Toddlers hit themselves with their hands or against hard surfaces, which can lead to bruises, cuts, or even more severe injuries if sharp objects are involved.
  • Developmental Delays: Repetitive physical movements, like head banging, may indicate developmental issues, such as autism spectrum disorder.
  • Emotional Trauma: The child hits themselves because they're unable to handle intense emotions. This could lead to long-term emotional distress if not addressed.
  • Impaired Emotional Regulation: Self-harming behavior can become a coping mechanism for managing emotions, leading to an unhealthy cycle of self-harm.

It's essential to address these behaviors as soon as possible. 

When a toddler hits themselves, it might be more than just a phase. 

It could be their way of expressing discomfort due to reasons like an ear infection, or it could be a sign of emotional regulation issues.

Contact your child's pediatrician or a mental health professional immediately if your child hurts themselves regularly. 

They can help identify the cause of the aggressive behavior and suggest healthy ways for your child to express their feelings or self-soothe.

Positive reinforcement can encourage children to develop better coping skills. 

For example, praising a child for expressing their feelings verbally can motivate them to continue doing so.

A mental health provider can also guide parents on how to provide the right kind of physical stimulation that can help many children with self-soothing.

If the self-harming behavior persists or escalates, it could indicate a serious condition like autism spectrum disorder, which often involves repetitive physical movements.

In such cases, your child's doctor can refer you to specialists who can provide further help.

Conclusion

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Patience, love, and understanding are your best tools. 

Don't hesitate to seek professional help if needed. 

You're not alone on this journey, and there's plenty of help available to guide you and your child toward a healthier emotional landscape. 

Addressing a child's self-harming behavior is not just about stopping the act. 

It's about understanding the underlying issues, guiding the child towards healthier emotional habits, and ensuring their overall well-being.

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June 17th, 2024

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