Inside: Hitting and Aggression are fast ways for your child to earn suspensions at school, or be socially ostracized by peers. Here are some replacement behaviors for hitting and aggression.

Many parents and caregivers struggle to manage aggressive behavior in children. One common form of aggression is hitting, which can be both physically and emotionally damaging to others.

While it is important to address the underlying causes of hitting, such as frustration or a lack of communication skills, it is equally important to provide children with replacement behaviors that are safe and appropriate.

children need replacement behaviors for hitting and aggression
Children need replacement behaviors for hitting and aggression.

My son rides a van with 2 other students. His nurse is on the van waiting for him every morning.

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Today he wanted to take his Sesame Street microwave toy with him to school. He’s allowed to take a toy with him for the ride. This toy is a bit larger than what I usually encourage, but I allowed it.

He carried it with him down the front walk to the van. Despite the correct prompting, he was upset that I took the microwave from him so that his hands were free to get on the van.

So, he grabbed his nurse’s hair. He loves his nurse, his van squad and his school. She just got the brunt of his displeasure because she was closest.

There are many risks to not fixing this behavior, addressing the antecedents and teaching the child the necessary skills

  • hitting and aggression may be treated punitively–with suspensions or expulsions
  • your (my) child may be hit in retaliation from the person they hit, if they do not have proper self regulation
  • it’s socially ostracizing and stigmatizing behavior

Antecedents to Hitting and Aggression

It’s important to address the antecedents to this behavior.

In my son’s scenario this morning, the antecedent was quite clear. I took something from him and he was not happy with that decision.

Tomorrow morning, I will be more aware of this situation and will use preventative measures.

These may include:

  • Not allowing the microwave to be his toy of choice in the morning
  • taking the toy from him at the front door, before we walk to the van
  • Fewer verbal prompts (he’s a slow processor)
  • Keeping the microwave in his line of vision during the entire transition to the van

I don’t know which I will choose, but hitting his nurse or pulling her hair is not appropriate. And, he’s a teenager. A strong teenager. His nurse and I are forgiving when these incidents happen.

The next caregiver may not be and abuse to our kids happens all the time.

Other antecedents to aggressive behavior or hitting are:

  • sensory overload
  • task avoidance or task refusal
  • Interoception issues
  • lack of emotional regulation skills
  • no skill set to manage social situations (a peer cheated or didn’t play by the rules)
  • being bullied
  • does not have skill set to do what is asked of them (frustration)

I’m sure there are more, but make sure your child’s team has adequately addressed the antecedents.

child who needs a replacement behavior for his yelling
Yelling is another behavior that can socially ostracizing.

Address the Antecedents

There was a discussion on my Facebook page recently, about sensory overload or sensory issues in the classroom.

A mom posted something like “well, his sensory issues are never going to change–the brightness of the lights is never going to not bother him.”

Ok, I get that. But, we can’t go snowplowing through our kids’ lives forever, plowing every antecedent out of the way.

I replied something like, “Yes, I get that. But, if the bright lights are bothering you, you can learn to ask to leave and go to a safe space, you can ask for sunglasses, or you can scream and carry on or do some other socially ostracizing behavior.”

All that to say, I get it. Our society doesn’t do enough–school or otherwise, to really figure out our kids and what is bothering them and make it better.

We still have to teach them coping skills.

And, make sure your child has self-advocacy skills. Many students have IEP goals for self advocacy skills.

Our kids need to be able to self-identify when they are reaching dysregulation, and how to ask for help or a brain break.

There are many possible replacement behaviors for hitting, depending on the child’s age, temperament, and interests.

For example, younger children may benefit from learning how to express their emotions through words or pictures, while older children may benefit from practicing relaxation techniques or engaging in physical activities that release pent-up energy.

Replacement Behaviors for Hitting

It is important to choose replacement behaviors that are compatible with the child’s developmental level and that provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

By teaching children alternative ways to cope with their emotions, caregivers can help reduce the frequency and intensity of hitting and promote positive social interactions.

When it comes to addressing hitting behaviors, it’s important to identify alternative behaviors that can serve the same function as hitting.

Here are some replacement behaviors that can be effective in preventing hitting:

1. Positive Reinforcement

One effective way to replace hitting behavior is to reinforce positive behaviors. Positive reinforcement can be used to encourage and reward alternative behaviors that are more socially acceptable. For example, if a child is hitting to get attention, parents or caregivers can reinforce positive behaviors like asking for attention politely or using words to express their feelings. This can be done by praising the child when they use these alternative behaviors or giving them a reward for doing so.

2. Teaching Self-Regulation Skills

Another approach to replacing hitting behavior is to teach children self-regulation skills. Self-regulation involves the ability to manage one’s emotions and behavior in a way that is appropriate for the situation. For example, a child who hits when they are angry can be taught to take deep breaths or count to ten before reacting. This can help them to calm down and choose a more appropriate response.

3. Modeling Appropriate Behaviors

Children often learn by observing the behavior of others, so modeling appropriate behaviors can also be an effective way to replace hitting behavior. Parents or caregivers can model alternative behaviors like using words to express their feelings, walking away from a situation that is causing frustration, or using physical activity like running or jumping to release pent-up energy.

By using these replacement behaviors, parents and caregivers can help children learn more appropriate ways to express their emotions and needs. It’s important to remember that changing behavior takes time and consistency, so it’s important to be patient and persistent in reinforcing positive behaviors.

Replacement Behaviors for Aggression

I don’t know what all I’d include in aggression. But, destruction of property for sure!

I’ve had many kids destroy school property. That’s a fast way to land yourself in a manifestation hearing.

4. Identifying Triggers

Before teaching replacement behaviors for aggression, it is essential to identify the triggers that lead to aggressive behavior. Common triggers include frustration, fear, anxiety, and sensory overload. The individual may have difficulty communicating their needs or may struggle with impulse control, leading to aggression. Caregivers and teachers should observe the individual’s behavior and note any patterns or situations that lead to aggression.

5. Teaching Coping Strategies

Once triggers have been identified, teaching coping strategies is the next step. Coping strategies can help the individual manage their emotions and reduce the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Coping strategies can include deep breathing, counting to ten, taking a break, or engaging in a calming activity such as drawing or listening to music. It is important to teach coping strategies when the individual is calm and not in the midst of an aggressive episode.

6. Social Skills Training

Social skills training can help individuals with aggression learn appropriate ways to communicate their needs and interact with others. Social skills training can include role-playing, modeling, and direct instruction.

The individual can learn how to express their emotions in a non-threatening way and how to problem-solve conflicts. Social skills training can also help the individual develop empathy for others, which can reduce aggressive behavior.

Identifying triggers, teaching coping strategies, and social skills training are effective replacement behaviors for aggression. By implementing these strategies, caregivers and teachers can help individuals with aggression manage their emotions and develop appropriate social skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Self advocacy is going to play a huge role in all of this.

What behaviors can I do instead of hitting?

When feeling angry or frustrated, it can be difficult to know what to do instead of hitting. Some alternative behaviors include taking deep breaths, counting to ten, walking away from the situation, talking to a trusted adult or friend, or engaging in a physical activity such as running or jumping jacks.

How can I replace aggressive behaviors?

Replacing aggressive behaviors requires identifying the triggers that lead to the aggressive behavior and finding alternative behaviors to use in those situations. It can also be helpful to practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to help manage emotions.

What are some alternative behaviors to hitting?

Alternative behaviors to hitting include using words to express feelings, taking a break or time-out, engaging in a physical activity, drawing or writing about feelings, or listening to calming music.

What are some replacement behaviors for physical aggression?

Replacement behaviors for physical aggression include using assertive communication, practicing problem-solving skills, engaging in physical exercise, or seeking support from a trusted individual.

What are some functionally equivalent behaviors for aggression?

Functionally equivalent behaviors for aggression include engaging in physical activities such as sports or exercise, participating in martial arts or self-defense classes, or engaging in activities that allow for the release of pent-up emotions, such as punching a pillow or yelling into a pillow.

What are some effective replacement behaviors for aggression?

Effective replacement behaviors for aggression include identifying triggers and developing coping strategies, practicing relaxation techniques, engaging in physical exercise, and seeking support from a trusted individual or therapist. It is important to find replacement behaviors that work best for the individual and their unique needs.

We have many other resources abut behavior on this site. It’s a complex topic, so make sure you read it all!

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