All blog posts

“If You Hit, You Sit”

Tags: , , ,
"If You Hit, You Sit"

(or "Yes Virginia, there is an Adlerian time out")

"My 18 month old hits when he is playing with friends during play dates. I’ve told him again and again that it is not nice, and that it hurts, and to use his words. I am thinking I will try using a time out. Do Adlerians even believe in time outs?"
– Virginia

Yes, Virginia there is an Adlerian Time Out
Virginia – you are on the right path. Yes, Adlerians do use "Time Outs" as they are really just a version of a logical consequence IF applied correctly – however I work with a lot of parents and find that they rarely are.

"If you hit – you sit (out)" is a great short and snappy way of remembering and offering this logical consequence that meets the requisite 3 R’s: respectful, related and revealed in advance.

The consequence must be logical to the child: "If you choose to play co-operatively you may stay here with your friends. If you choose to hit, which is unsafe, you must go somewhere else because we need to feel safe when we play together. When you decide to play without hitting we would love to have you back"

In non-punitive Adlerian time outs:

  1. Of utmost importance: the length of time is decided by the child. Whenever they decide to choose to play without hitting they can come back.
  2. The emphasis is on participating in the group with safe pro-social behaviours that meet the needs of the situation. It is about safety and other ways to problem solve: not about being "nice" or "not doing what you’re told" which is all about listening to authority figures.
  3. I recommend not using the phrase "time out" as it is has a negative connotation with children.
  4. I recommend the child stay close to the fun they want to get back too rather than hiking all the way to their bedroom. You want the children to be motivated to quickly decide to act differently and come back ASAP.
  5. Do not have a time out chair/area – that introduces a stigma which is punitive, and speaks to having negative expectations for the child’s future behaviour. Very discouraging.

"One minute of time-out for every year" (often recommended by time-out proponents) is NOT a good method. If the child decides they want to come back and there is still time on the clock, they’ll spend the remaining time building resentment and anger, and the child may seek revenge.

TTFT Take time for training
Virginia – you had some great lines. I also use:

  • "Our hands are for hugging and holding" (invites the behaviour we want to see)
  • "It is not okay to hit people. We need to feel safe when we play." (be clear, not angry)
  • "You need to speak up and use your words – not your hands." (help start problem solving through verbalizing)

Once you have said these once – YOU ARE DONE. They are bright, they heard you. After all, how many times did you have to tell them that cookies are kept in the cookie jar on the counter?

Offer Choice: "Can you stay and play safely or do you need to go?"

Follow Through: "I see (because you keep hitting) that you need to go" and guide them to the side of the room or someplace neutral on the sidelines of the action out of the centre of the action.

Action Not Words: Once they’ve been in this time out once, you can just take their hand and guide them to the side. No words needed.

Firm and Friendly: Watch that body language. Stay calm and composed. Your emotions, disapproval, or exasperated looks interfere with the learning.

Remember: When they choose to come back – that is fine.

"Hi – I am glad you’ve chosen to come back. It’s more fun when we play all together."

Tip: Don’t go overboard with this noticing. If you do they may decide that is enough payoff to encourage them to get themselves into time outs just so they can steel the show with a grand re-entrance! And this does happen.

Virginia – I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

5 Responses to ““If You Hit, You Sit””

  1. JackiYo

    Thanks so much for this article. I’m seeking your advice first. My 2yr4mo old likes to hit. Out of frustration. For attention. When he’s tired. “Time Outs” don’t seem to be working, and we actually *gulp* did resort to trying to spank.. Obviously that didn’t help, and I went into the spanking knowing full-well it was completely contradictory to what we were trying to teach.
    I’m going to get my husband to also read this article – and your views on spanking – and we’ll be tweeking our “time outs”.
    Here’s hoping we can get him to stop hitting!

  2. Terra

    This article is just what I’m looking for. Thank you.

  3. Crystal

    I really like this article. I have a 5 yr old that has started to hit daily, he is hitting his 2 yr old brother and us the parents. I am currently reading your book and am going to reread it so I have everything straight in my head but was lost at what to do with him hitting us. My husband and I were hitting occasionally when nothing else was working (like the mother above said) we knew it was contreversial but what else to do! We have discussed it and are now on the same page that we will no longer do this as a punishment but now he is hitting and not sure how to handle that. The other day we were out visitig and he wanted to bring a ball home to play with and was told no, he kept bugging and then resorted to hitting me, I told him to stop and he didn’t so I just walked away and said I was leaving. Is it ok to use the ignore tool in this situation or do you use the you hit you sit? He is also threatening to hit when he doesn’t get his way eg. give me dessert or I’ll smack you.
    I am trying lots of the stuff I have read in you book like praise and good attention… it is really hard to break old habits! lol
    Thanks for all your help
    I have also read 123 magic what is you take on this way of dealing with children.

  4. Andrea

    Thanks for this advice. It’s come in handy however, I am not noticing it having any affect the on my three year old. I had my third child three months ago and every opportunity my son gets he either punches, hits or throws toys at the baby. We spend lots of one on one time together and he gets quite a bit of attention however this behaviour has not ended. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Julia Johnson

      Check our Janet Lansbury also. Very similar theory & she talks a LOT about sibling disrupting the behavior of a child.


Leave a Reply

5 Best Parenting Practices

Take these 5 steps towards a better relationship with your child.

Check your inbox for your Free Resource!

5 Best Parenting Practices

Take these 5 steps towards a better relationship with your child.

Check your inbox for your Free Resource!