My daughter from a previous marriage was 8 when our son was born. Pretty much since the day he could move he has been hitting his sister with his hands or objects, biting, scratching etc. He is now 3 and she is nearly 11.

He goes out of his way to find her and 'torture' her. She will be sitting quietly and he will walk into the room and throw something at her head. He will find her wherever she hides. If she ignores him and leaves the room, he follows. As with many other posts I have read on-line, we have asked his sister not to retaliate, but to come and get one of the adults to deal with him. This certainly does not work. She has retaliated a few times over the past years, but he still continues to abuse her.

He also hits other children at daycare (although this behaviour is getting better and doesn't happen often, we have been warned by his daycare provider about it). He will hit other children with his hands or objects as well.

At 3, I am sure he understands what he is doing is wrong, but he continues and he 'tortures' our two dogs as well, which I am very vigilant about. He will go up and hit or lay on the dogs, pretend to kick them, or in the past week, he has resorted to chasing them around the house - in a stalking way, not for fun... I don't want it to get to the stage where one of the dogs attack him and we have to get them put down.

He is a real boy, very rough when playing, running around very 'busy' all the time, has to be constantly occupied. He is very loud, yelling into people's faces. We are loath to invite other children around or go to a birthday party as he hits other children. His sister told me today she doesn't like inviting her friends around because her brother hits them. I feel like we have tried most things.

Over the past three years we have gone through everything: Explaining why this is not good behaviour, that it hurts, that hitting is not nice, putting him in timeout, taking his favourite toy/s off him, yelling at him in frustration etc.

I don't feel he is a special needs child or anything, so don't want to go down the diagnosis path, but we need some help... We are at our wits' end, and are not sure what to do.

  • What discipline structure do you use and who applies it - you, dad or both? Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 13:13

3 Answers 3


The key to effective discipline is consistency. Whatever you choose to do, react that way every time. Luckily we haven't had too much trouble with hitting, but that's because we nipped it in the bud immediately. Time outs often don't work, in my opinion, for hitting. When our children hit or pushed, we would grab their hand and very sternly say "no!" It was a shocking enough reaction that they typically wouldn't do it again. But some children are more persistent. Key is consistent discipline. They need to know that there will be a consequence for bad behavior.

Likewise, if you notice your child restraining them self while they are angry, praise them for their good reaction...It's ok to be upset. But it's important to know how to handle yourself when you're unhappy or angry. Also, praise good behaviors constantly.


Almost all kids go through a phase like that, although it's longer for some than for others. We used time outs for our children, but we had to be consistent every single time, we had to recognize their triggers and catch them in the "wind up" if at all possible, and we had to teach them alternate ways to express their frustration. In other words, don't tell him not to hit, tell him what to do instead.

For most of our kids, consistently applying that process for a month or two was sufficient for them to break the habit, including a two year-old foster son who acquired the habit from a very violent father. One of our daughters isn't motivated by time outs, and we tried everything else we could think of with no success. It sounds counterintuitive, and bothered us to do it, but what finally worked for us was hitting her hand whenever she hit someone. Since the other kids almost never hit her back, it didn't really click with her about the pain she was causing others until then.

  • Why is it counter-intuitive and why did it bother you? I noticed that in recent years there has been an increasingly insidious political ideology that spanking is wrong, which is actually a false generalization. As you observed, restricting to palm-to-palm spanking works well to curb violent behaviour without adverse effects. And indeed your last sentence is one of the reasons why it works; it demonstrates pain to the child in a safe manner without any power struggle, as long as you do not use an object to spank and you never do it in anger.
    – user21820
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 13:50
  • Unfortunately, the socio-political problem is getting worse nowadays, such as here, where even a very precise specification of the kind of misbehaviour and acceptable type of spanking is instantly met with knee-jerk rejection; maybe just the word "spanking" alone is a psychological trigger for some people.
    – user21820
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 14:00

Punish him. What are his favorite toys? Whenever he does something bad confiscate them. After doing so, talk to him. Explain him what he is doing is bad. It doesn’t matter if he is 3. If there’s no clear communication he can’t know the difference between right or wrong. Put him in the girl’s/other kids’ shoes. Ask him if he’d like to be hit for no reason.

Plus try to understand why he is like that. Does he see violent people? Does he feel ignored by you or his dad? Comunicate with him, love him and teach him to do the same.

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