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“How I Helped My Son Stop Hitting Classmates”

When my child started hitting classmates, I spared the rod and did some behavior modification. It’ll work for you, too, if you give it time.

ADHD comes with undesirable behaviors. From hyperactivity, to emotional sensitivity, to not responding when spoken to, it can be challenging to not let those “annoyances” get under your skin. Knowing the reasons for each undesirable behavior can help you keep calm and work on modifying them.

When Ricochet was in second grade, he was the classroom vigilante. Every time he felt someone had broken a rule, or had been mean to him or another student, he’d scrunch up his meanest scowl, rear back, and punch him. As you can imagine, this was a behavior problem for the school and they weren’t tolerating it, nor should they.

I was perplexed. Ricochet is a sweet kid with a warm heart and an affectionate spirit. Hitting was outside his nature. Yet he was hitting his classmates, at least a couple times a week. At the time, I didn’t know the reason for his aggression in these instances, but I was determined to turn this impulsive reaction around.

Every time Ricochet hit a classmate, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Momma: What made you hit that student today at school?

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Ricochet: I got mad at them because they ……… ! (It was things like cutting in front of another student in line, using someone’s yellow crayon without asking, or talking when the teacher asked them not to.)

Momma: Is it OK to hit someone when you’re mad at him?

Ricochet: No.

Momma: What are some acceptable ways to show that you are mad and deal with your anger?

Ricochet: I can tell the teacher.

Momma: Right! What else?

Ricochet: I can use my words?

Momma: Yes! You can also walk away, right? Because it’s not your job to enforce the rules.

Ricochet: Yeah.

[Read: More Than Meds — A Guide to ADHD Behavior Modification]

Momma: Was “hitting the person” on that list we just talked about?

Ricochet: No.

Momma: So is it OK to hit someone when you’re angry with him?

Ricochet: No.

Momma: So, next time someone ……….., what are you going to do?

Ricochet: Tell the teacher, use my words, or walk away.

Here’s the key to this behavior modification strategy: time and consistency. It took about six months of going through this same conversation every time Ricochet hit a classmate, but he finally stopped hitting. In fact, that was more than five years ago and he’s never hit another kid (except the two times someone started beating on him first).

Did I feel like a broken record? Absolutely! Did I think it was hopeless? At times. Yet I stuck with it, crazy as it felt sometimes, and it paid off.

Behavior modification is simple and can be used for many different behaviors (even something as mundane as putting down the toilet seat after using the restroom). The trick is, you have to stick to it and you have to give it time, lots of time.

In the case of Ricochet’s hitting, it was because he didn’t have the skills to manage frustration and his emotions. Kids with ADHD often lag behind in these skills. Knowing it was part of ADHD helped me remain calm. Behavior modification ended the unwanted behavior, and helped him improve these necessary skills as well. A true win-win.

Which of your child’s unwanted behaviors can you work on in this way?

[Read This Next: Anger Is Important — But Only When It’s Managed]