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Two Angry Children, Hitting at Once

I’m writing on behalf of M—, a mother I Co-Counsel with. M— has two children, ages five and seven. The family recently moved to a new home, and the children sometimes work on what seem to be feelings about this by together going after [attacking] M— and hitting her. M— feels overpowered and like there is no chance for a good outcome. She knows the early material [distress] that connects to these feelings and discharges them well. So our question is more about how to actually physically manage the situation.

When the children’s father is home, M— counsels one child while her partner counsels the second child in another room. When she is alone with both children, M— protects herself from getting hurt by going into another room and shutting the door between her and her children. She speaks to them through the door, telling them that she can’t let them hurt her.

Someone in our Community suggested that M— lock one child in one room, saying she will counsel her or him in a little while but that right now she will counsel her or his sibling—and then switch.

Obviously neither of these options is ideal. Does anyone have experience with or ideas about how to deal with two angry children hitting at once? Having more adults around for support is not always possible.


I would keep encouraging the mom to work through her hard stuff [distress] so she won’t be overwhelmed by her children and will be confident that she can handle this. It is possible! If your Community has the resource, an intensive [several hours of one-way counseling to be paid back later] would be helpful. Mom could also have some wrestling sessions in which she could fight hard, win, and discharge heavy early fears. That would give her more flexibility in how to be there with her children. Getting to some workshops would also be helpful.

Second, she could do a lot of light play with her children. There are lots of ways to play in which they could all have fun. Chase games and pillow fights are especially helpful. Snuggle wrestling can be fun—you pull a child over and give them a big squeeze and then quickly let them go again. Mom can look for all the things that make her children laugh and do them. She can also read the pamphlet Playlistening, by Patty Wipfler.

Third, she can talk with them about what she is able to do and what she is not able to do as a counselor. Young people want to be brought into the thinking with their parents. She can explain what gets hard for her and propose different solutions. Her children might be able to come up with [think of] some solutions, too.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to lock a child in a room, and the mom shutting herself in a room isn’t a great idea either.

Thanks for being a caring ally to this mom.

Marya Axner

International Liberation
Reference Person for Parents

Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

When my children were little one would sometimes be physically aggressive toward the other. If I tried to interrupt it, I would then be targeted, often in a way I did not have the attention or resource to handle. 

I found it to be helpful to plan regular play sessions with the children that involved a way for them to discharge this distress without hurting me. The most successful activities were Beanie Baby fights, spaghetti fights, and sock wrestling.

For Beanie Baby fights we had a large basket of soft toys we could throw at each other. I encouraged them to throw them at me, not at each other. When I threw them, I would intentionally (usually) miss hitting them. I would often fall down when they hit me (even lightly) with a toy, which made them laugh. The basket was always nearby, so we could call for a Beanie Baby fight whenever needed and at a moment’s notice [immediately].

A spaghetti fight requires planning ahead. I cooked large pots of spaghetti, and once it cooled off we went outside and threw it at each other (no spaghetti sauce!). They loved being able to throw food, and spaghetti sticks to you in a way they really enjoyed. This was a favorite activity.

Sock wrestling can also be great if you have a soft safe space. We had a big mattress on the floor. You lie down together and try to pull off one another’s socks. The children would take turns playing it with me (not wrestling with each other), and the child not wrestling would cheer on her sibling. This was the game most likely to end up with [finish with] one child having a bigger session with lots of crying discharge—and one can easily go from wrestling to just holding close. Of course, if another Co-Counselor is available to back [support] the mom, or to pay attention to the child who is not actively discharging, that’s really useful, but I rarely had this option. I would often try to get a phone mini-session after.

So whenever there was some kind of undesirable physical interaction that was directed at me or the other child, I would offer up these activities. The children would usually enthusiastically pick one.


Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of parents


Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00