Being a parent is hard work, but it’s an even bigger challenge when you have a son that just can’t keep his hands to himself. This takes the worry of parenting to a whole new level- is he hurting others? Why is he so angry? What do other parents think? Will other children start to avoid him? Once the questions make their way into your mind, it’s hard to get them to stop.
There are actionable tips for what you can do to help your son keep his hands to himself. Redirection and positive reinforcement are great strategies that work for some children, while others need a straightforward approach, like a firm “no” and physically removing your son from the situation.
Naturally, your approach will depend mostly on your own parenting methods and beliefs, along with your son’s personality. Read on for tips on what you can do when your son can’t keep his hands to himself.
Table of Contents
Determine Why Your Son Can’t Keep His Hands to Himself
First of all, remind yourself that your son is not the only child out there who has to touch everything. Children, for the most part, are sensory learners. They learn through touching, although some clearly more than others.
Yet, we have to be completely honest with ourselves and admit whether we could be part of the problem. If we are not setting the proper boundaries, teaching our sons about other people’s space, and allowing them to put themselves at the center of the universe, then we must fix ourselves fast in order to help our sons.
“No” has gotten a bad wrap in recent parenting circles. There are even advocates of the “never say no” parenting philosophy. All it takes is running into these children in a public setting to see the problems this causes.
Kids crave boundaries and you to care enough to enforce them. If you don’t they will push on them until someone does. The way kids feel safe is to have someone care what they are doing. Some instances of your son putting his hands on others could be simply him trying to get someone to stop him.
Ease Up on Your Own Fears
This is much easier said than done, right? And you’ll never be able to eliminate the fear completely, but you have to work on your own views before you can address your son’s behavior.
Next time you’re at the park, or a restaurant, take a break from worrying about your son to observe the other children around. You’ll notice there are plenty of other tiny humans that are picking up everything they shouldn’t be, poking and prodding at their friends (and sometimes those kiddos they don’t even know), and just handling… everything.
Your son is definitely not the only one. There are literally weeks go by as a teacher that every day you are addressing this very issue with multiple children. They get frustrated and take, poke, and even hit when words fail them.
So, eliminate that worry from your mind. Once you’re able to set the worry aside, you’ll be able to parent from a place of helping and teaching instead of fear. This might be the hardest part of the entire process; worrying is part of parenting. But once you realize that it’s normal for your son to be handsy, things will be a little clearer.
Keep in mind that though there are many kids with this problem, it doesn’t make it acceptable. It just means that it is part of the parenting process with some children.
Get to Know Your Son
Of course, you already know your son. You’re his parent, after all. But putting this intention in your mind can help you look at things from a different perspective. Interact with your son, but let him be the guide. He gets to choose the activities. You just follow his lead. Find out what motivates him. (I’ve addressed this in another article, What Mothers Think About Sons and Want Them to Know.)
Notice how he plays and interacts with you. Chances are, no matter what activity you’re doing, he’s going to do most of the playing or interacting with his hands. Are you at the grocery store, and he just keeps touching all the produce? Is he driving you crazy by digging in the dirt while you’re outside? Does he have to sit as close to you as possible? These are all indicators that your son is just a very sensorial learner.
This next statement is not what many will tell you, but it is widely unsaid in the educational communities. Public and even private school settings are designed for girls to succeed. The needs of boys to have physical outlets like manual labor, rough play, and interactions that involve contact are not only downplayed, but outright derided.
This leads to boys releasing these desires and built up tensions in inappropriate and even harmful ways.
If your son is in school, ask the teacher for any inside information. Is he aggressive toward other children? Or just really, really handsy? This can help you determine the root of why he can’t keep his hands to himself, and that will ultimately help you figure out what to do for the solutions.
Is Your Son Just Handsy, or is it Something More?
At some point, you might want to enlist the help of a professional. Don’t panic! This could take several forms. It could be in the form of a therapist, a coach, or an outdoors loving uncle. A fishing pole and a long talk can fix a lot in a boys life.
Counseling Help For Sons
One could be to enlist the help of a therapist, though in most all cases this will not be necessary. Yet, you as the parent need to make this decision. If this is what you think is needed then there can be resources in schools or within your healthcare network.
There are often times an in-house solution for your son’s inability to keep his hands to himself. It might be that he mentally and physically doesn’t have the control due to a condition like ADD or ADHD. But these are just challenges that you and your son will overcome with proper medical attention, and you’ll have additional resources to help him.
A word of caution here: Teachers in schools are not only unqualified to make these types of designations or diagnoses, it is unlawful in many states for them to do so. Seek the advice of a medical professional before settling on any solutions or pushing for any remedies for such a situation. Though teachers may ‘think’ they know a child needs help in this area, the boy may just be a boy needing a physical outlet.
Coaches, Instructors, and Other Role Models
There is also another route that usually does the trick. Boys are much more affected by what teachers, instructors, parents, and coaches do around them than anything they say. They are watching much more than they are listening. This means that there is one thing that really affect boys.
This can be in the form of a sport coach, Martial Arts Instructor, or even an uncle to take him hunting. Boys are not only less emotional and more physical on average than girls, they also need male role models to learn how to be. They will begin to act and react like the men in their lives, so put them around men that show and teach self control.
Coaches of sports teams can fill this role. Especially in rougher sports like American Football, growing up and learning to control emotions in a group setting is part of the process. Just make sure the men exemplify the qualities you want your son to learn, or he will just pick up a whole new set of tendencies that you will have to work to change.
Martial arts instructors are a great way to instill the sense of respecting the personal space and property of others. There is little else that we can have our sons involved in that teaches this more. Like with sport coaches, it is imperative to choose a martial arts instructor that has and teaches the character you want to instill in your child.
Sending your handsy 7 year old to a Cage Fighting instructor who wants to teach him to choke or pound other children, may not be the best solution.
If you want to see how my husband teaches many children online and models the character you may be looking for in your son, check out the information here on his Little Ninja Online Karate Classes.
If you check in with your pediatrician, enroll in a sport or martial art, and there’s no serious concern of anything driving his issues, then there are some strategies you can do personally to help him learn to keep his hands to himself. None of these will help the situation right away, so plan on adjusting your routine and mindset. Dealing with these behaviors takes consistency and commitment.
Strategies to Help Your Son Keep His Hands to Himself
Remind yourself as often as possible that you’re not alone. Plenty of other parents are dealing with these same challenges. And having a son that can’t keep his hands to himself is very normal.
A good visual to guide you (and your child) for life lessons might be this poster of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules (available from Amazon). Not only does Peterson simplify big ideals into 12 easy statements, he aligns them closely to the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule is to “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you..” Matthew 7:12
Up next, we have some actionable tips and tricks that you can implement at home to help your son learn to keep his hands to himself. Much of this will take time for your son to know that you are serious and that this is the new normal. Especially if you have spent years frustrated and not implementing these types of strategies. Just don’t stop. They do work.
Establish Cause and Effect
With younger children, the lack of cognitive ability is a driving force. If a child hasn’t developed a full understanding of cause and effect, it’s impossible for them to realize there are consequences to their actions. A two-year-old hitting someone out of anger doesn’t make him an aggressive child; instead, it shows he simply doesn’t know that what he’s doing is hurting someone else or that it’s wrong.
With toddlers, it’s important to act immediately. Their reinforcement period is short. Remove the child from the situation right away, but just for a few seconds. A full-on time-out is not the solution here. But removing the child from the situation helps them physically connect the idea that they did something undesirable, and they’ll begin to develop the concept of cause and effect.
With older children, they might be fully aware of how cause and effect works, but they might not care as much. That doesn’t mean your son lacks empathy. It might just show that he’s testing the waters to see what he can and can’t get away with and when it is that you will put forth the effort to stop him. If this is the case, you’ll still need to remove your child from the situation.
Prepare yourself: it won’t be pretty, and it definitely won’t be convenient. But if your son is hitting other children at the park, leave the park. If your child is getting in his sibling’s personal space and they don’t like it, he needs to be the one to move away.
When older children realize their behavior is upsetting others, and the consequence is not receiving attention for the conduct, it’s pretty quick to stop. They really want you to do it. They will tell you when they are in their twenties, trust me.
Pick and Choose Your Battles
You hear this a lot as parents, but it rings true here: don’t engage in any battles that you’re not willing to follow through with. If you say, “Poke your sister one more time, and you’re going to your room,” you have to be ready for the possibility that you will have to carry someone to their room.
We as adults all know that no one is pulling a car off on the side of the road. That is dangerous and a waste of time. Your kids know this as well. Don’t use the tired, “Don’t make me pull this car over,” line. No one is buying it.
This is why it’s best to avoid statements like that and to choose your words carefully. Make sure that your messages are clear and concise, without any fluff, and you’re willing to carry out whatever consequences you put out there.
Use Meaningful Consequences
Taking away TV for a week when your son gets in trouble at school for hitting just doesn’t mean much, especially for those younger kiddos. Plan your discipline strategies carefully, and make sure they’re geared toward helping your son build a link between his actions and the consequences.
My husband and I joke sometimes that we gave our kids things or privileges they loved, knowing that they would be taken away many times in the near future. If you don’t know what your child likes, you won’t know what to take away. We don’t give to take away, but it sure serves a double purpose at times.
When my son would use a ‘smart’ tone with me, my husband would suddenly appear in the doorway from the other room and simply look at him. He knew something or some privilege was gonna be gone for a while and he would wait to see what it was. The truth is, we knew what he liked the most and there wasn’t much thought to be put into it.
It’s also important to pair the consequences with a positive action that helps your child correct their behavior. If your son hurts a peer, encourage him to make a public and real apology. If you really want to make a point and bring on a bit of embarrassment, have them make a card. Or, if he knocks down his sister’s block tower, he should be the one to rebuild it.
Parenting is sometimes an exercise that requires some mental gymnastics. Two things can be true at once. You can give your kids things and privileges because you love them, but also give them knowing they are tools for later.
Wrap Up Tips for When Your Son Can’t Keep His Hands to Himself
There are plenty of sons out there that just can’t keep their hands to themselves. Thankfully, there are strategies that you can do at home to help him learn what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. Just remember that whatever methods you choose to use, you have to be thoughtful and consistent.
But, if your methods aren’t working at home, or you suspect there’s an underlying cause for your son not being able to keep his hands to himself, reach out to your pediatrician and ask. Remember, they’ve seen and heard it all. Your son is not the only one to do this. Pediatricians can also connect you with resources and other families in the same position.