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Dear ADDitude: How Can My Son Stop Hitting?

“My son recently hit his best friend for telling him to shut up. We have tried several consequences, but nothing works and we are at the end of our rope. How can we discipline him more appropriately for impulse control problems?”

ADDitude Answers

A child with ADHD who is nine years old might have the emotional maturity of a six- or seven-year-old. This makes him feel out of place among their peers. They have problems regulating emotions or stopping impulsive actions. When they are among children who don’t have ADHD, their behavior stands out even more.
Talk to your pediatrician to make sure that medical reasons are ruled out. You might also request a referral to a behavioral therapist, who can work with you on strategies to implement at home and share with his teacher. Consistent communication is important right now. Ask his teacher to fill out a behavior chart each day and send it home with your son. You can react immediately to any situation. Focus on rewarding the “right” behavior. Catch your son speaking nicely to someone and praise him. Stress appropriate behavior, rather than focusing on the inappropriate behavior.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

ADDitude Answers

The same thing happened with my son around 2nd grade. Here’s how we put a stop to it: “How I Helped My Son Stop Hitting Classmates”.

The reason he’s hitting is because his skills in frustration tolerance and emotional regulation are lagging. Developmentally, he’s about two years behind his classmates. Reading the book, The Explosive Child by Ross Greene helped us tremendously. Occupational therapy also helped in these areas.

Here are some articles on solving behavior problems:

> Helping ADHD Kids Who Hit

> Shape Kids for Success with Behavior Modification

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I have started using Ross Greene’s program, “Collaborative & Proactive Solutions” outlined in his book The Explosive Child. He has a website,, that can give you more information.

There is also a great set of books aimed at younger children. The books are meant to be read to them several times and then practiced many times. You might want to start with, When I Feel Angry. Also, Hands are not for Hitting seems like a logical choice.

Best wishes!

Posted by 20Beth2013

A Reader Answers

You’re right to be concerned about the hitting for obvious reasons. Practice using strategies like saying, “I don’t like that” instead of using violence. It could be that your son is frustrated and is really responding to his difficult surroundings in school. Try to find and to remove, insofar as it is possible, sources of frustration.

Sometimes kids benefit from an activity like judo where there is an opportunity to be active in a controlled environment and to learn self-control.

Trying to figure out his strengths and making school work interesting is an excellent strategy.

Posted by John Tucker, PhD, ACG. ADHD Coach

A Reader Answers

My son just turned 7. In the past, he used to have a problem with hitting or hurting other children. He doesn’t do it anymore.

We used this plan to help him stop. First, he would have to write an apology letter to the child he hit. Then, he would write in his ‘Remember’ notebook, “I do not (action) other kids.” He would start out with a number like 50 X. If he did it again, he would do it 100 X, if he did it again, 200 X. (By then, he stopped doing it.)

Concurrently, he would have to go to his room when he got home from school that day.

Posted by Takeoutchick

A Reader Answers

I would HIGHLY recommend therapy. Studies show that the best treatment results from therapy combined with medication. The therapist can also give you tips on how to keep working with your son at home. We get by with a session every 2-3 weeks. At times, that’s not enough and at times it’s too much. (If your kids are like mine, we sometimes have some good spells for a few weeks). But coping mechanisms are only good if he uses them. Which is where you come into play to help him remember.

My son’s therapist used a couple of different strategies with my son when he was 7. One that worked well was one nostril breathing. When he felt his anger going to red, his anger color, he would hold one nostril closed and take deep breaths and count to 10. A remembering tactic we have used helps him stop and think: a loose rubber band on his wrist. It worked for my son.

Posted by kristinh

A Reader Answers

My son, now 13, did a Martial Arts after-school program for 5 years. Prior to it, he had lots of aggression problems at school. I’m not sure it helped with his attention/focus – but it did help with understanding the limits – you only fight in the dojo, you respect the instructor, and you use self-control. Experts say that individual sports are more suited to ADHD kids as opposed to team sports – since it allows them to progress at their own pace.

Posted by jayflight

A Reader Answers

One very important thing: immediate punishment is absolutely necessary – but do not use scorn! Your son is aggressive because he can’t control his impulses, not because he is “bad.” The punishments you use should be logical and consistent: “The rule is, if you hit you have to miss … and stay ….” You might have to say this for months before your child will eventually be able to stop the behavior. And there will be always situations which will catch him off guard and he will do it again.

You have to remember that it will take your son a lot more effort to be able to stop the impulsive aggression than it would take most people to be able to do it. So, if you’re angry with him that you have to punish him for the 20th time already, please try to understand that his brain is functioning differently in such situation and that he needs the punishment, but does not deserve any anger.

The most important thing is to believe that whatever it was that your son did was just because the situation was too hard for him to handle. Do what needs to be done, but always believe that kids aren’t doing it on purpose, and your child will come out alright.

Posted by befree

A Reader Answers

Focus on natural consequences. Make a list of consequences with your son. For instance: If he hits a friend. He’s used his hands to hurt. Have him make a simple “I’m sorry” card, take it to the friend and hug or shake hands. Later talk about how he used his mind and hands for kindness and talk about how he felt after he hit his friend vs. how he felt after being kind. And repeat this process every time it happens.

If you have the rule and the consequence written up where he can see it, when he breaks a rule just point to the consequence and say, “The rule says we don’t hit friends. The consequences is…” It comes from a concrete, black and white rule and not based on the judgement of the parent. It helps end control struggles because parents and kids are working together to follow the rules. It’s less likely to lead to negative or guilty feelings about disappointing parents. Kids see they’ve broken a rule, not their relationship with their parent!

Then, when the consequence is over, just let it go! Rehashing what happened it only makes it bigger, like his bad behavior is all that defines him. You must make him see these are occurrences, but do not make up his whole person. Show him not to judge a person only on one’s mistakes. It takes a whole lot of qualities and behaviors to make a person.

Try this activity. Have your son lie on a huge piece of paper, trace his body, then using the color he chooses have him label his brain, heart, and spine. Ask him to describe himself: good and bad. Use generalities and specifics. Label all over nearest the appropriate body part. If he says he’s fast, write it on his legs. List what he thinks in his brain and how he feels in his heart. For his spine: ask him what he wants/set a goal. That is what he strives for to guide himself. Have family members add positives. Color it, decorate it, and hang it up. Do new ones as he grows. The point is for him to see in a fun way all the different things that make a person besides “bad” behavior.

It is going to be difficult. Try not to be defensive toward other parents, teachers, family members. Minimize criticisms by saying something like, “Okay I’ll speak with him.” Or, “I’ll think about what you’ve said.” Smile and walk away. Save yourself the battles-even when you want to strike back with everything you’ve got-and remember you are to spend your time and energy on how your son feels and learns about himself. Your family relationship always trumps other people, many of whom will be out of his life later.

Remember, you’re SO not alone in this but it’s rare people are honest about their dirty laundry!

Posted by tmk2001