17 answers

Keeping Hands to Self

We have been struggling with our 5 1/2YO son keeping his hands to himself at school. I am looking for positive ways or suggestions to help him learn how to keep his hands to himself. He has had a speech issue his whole life and he has been more physical than I would think to be normal. I do notice other boys his age at baseball practice doing similar things as him, but have found this to be more of an issue for him while he is at school. He will be the first one to join in if any physicalness starts. One particular behavior he has been doing is putting his hands around others necks. I do not think this has ever hurt anyone, I don't believe he is squeezing or anything, but I don't want to see him do this again. Neither me or my husband have ever put our hands around his neck, accept when hugging, so he must've picked this up from somewhere. I have been trying a sticker reward chart, and he loses a sticker if his hands go around a neck, and he just doesn't earn a sticker if he can't keep his hands to himself. His teacher said that it's too long of a time (he's there 3 1/2 hours) to only get one sticker for keeping his hands to himself the whole time at school, so we are looking for other rewards to keep him on track while at school. He's big at poking to get attention, and it appears to me that he is really just trying to get others attention, or his way of saying "look at me." His speech still isn't at where it should be, so he still gets frustrated when he feels he is misunderstood. He is very kind hearted and I do not see him as trying to be mean, he is also very sensitive, which I am thankful for, especially for his wife someday! I welcome any suggestions and questions if I haven't explained enough. Thanks in advance for your help!

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I wonder, if he had something like a squeeze ball to hold onto if that would give him a positive way to keep his hands busy so he wouldn't need to touch others?

by no means an expert...but just a thought- there is a book called "'The Out of Sync chld" talking about sensory intigration disorder, sometimes kids who are hypo-sensative (these kids need lots of stimulus vs. feeling overstimulated). Maybe he is acting this way, for this reason...just an idea, b/c I have a friend with a kid with that diagnosis and he does the neck grabbing all the time...good luck!

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I would talk to your child's teacher and school and request that he be evaluated by an Occupational Therapist for Sensory Integration Disorder. (You can also do that privately.) It sounds as though he really does not "get" that he's doing something wrong, which means he's probably doing it to satisfy a need that he has that's not being met. I have a nephew who would do similar things and it was really awful for everyone...awful for mom because you don't want your kid to be the kid that hits and chokes, awful for him because no one wanted to be his friend, and awful for other kids because it's scary.

With proper therapy, sensory integration can be managed and even "outgrown." My nephew is an entirely different child after therapies. You do have to get an OT who knows her stuff and is willing/able to address it. (BTW, there are I think 5 kids of "senses" in sensory integration disorder, and they're not just "hearing" "seeing" etc.)

Good luck to you and your little guy. Bless his heart.

1 mom found this helpful

I wonder, if he had something like a squeeze ball to hold onto if that would give him a positive way to keep his hands busy so he wouldn't need to touch others?

N.- oh how we wish for the best for our kids! It is not always easy to find the way that works best for each individual child but take heart and continue trying. I think talking to your son and explaining how it could hurt somebody and then giving him a positive way of touching might help. It is one of the ways I helped my son learn appropriate touches for others outside the family. My son is also sensitive and kind hearted. We worked on sign language at home too which he has picked up more now that he is older and teaches his sisters, but he does get fustrated because kids in his class don't understand what the signs are or mean. At least when he asks them to stop doing something he isn't hitting or pushing he is making the sign for stop. It then comes in handy as a family when we are out he understands from a distance when i want him to stop a certain behavior. It is a slow process that they don't really grasp fully all at once, so it may take time. Continue to work with your son and try different things something eventually will register and help him to change. Also think about speech therapy especially early on if you haven't already. easter seals is a good place that has been very friendly to us when we have gone for developmental check ups.
Be encouraged that you are not alone in dealing with this and that you guys can overcome!

by no means an expert...but just a thought- there is a book called "'The Out of Sync chld" talking about sensory intigration disorder, sometimes kids who are hypo-sensative (these kids need lots of stimulus vs. feeling overstimulated). Maybe he is acting this way, for this reason...just an idea, b/c I have a friend with a kid with that diagnosis and he does the neck grabbing all the time...good luck!

You are fortunate to have a professional person working with you and your son. Unless her advice doesn't feel right to you, listen to her. My advice is not to put your thoughts and feelings into your son. So many parents try to read their children's minds and they would be better off stepping back and looking at the facts. Being very physical is normal for kids, especially those who are less able to say things with words. But you're right to be concerned about the choking action, it could come from a few different places. Start by talking calmly to your son, getting his full attention and explaining as simply as possible that he cannot do this, it is scary . Does he want to be scary? The talk can go in many directions, be accepting (I'm sure you will) and don't be shocked if he admits to some nastiness. If so, say you want to help him not to feel that way, etc. etc.

Dear N.,
You might want try giving his something good to do instead of not to do. You may be able to send him to school with a small squishy ball or a block of beeswax to work when needs his hands to do something. Also keeping his body in his own "garden" and reminding him of this will help. Good Luck!

J. O

Hi N., I too had a similar situation with my 4 year old son. If kids were playing tag, he would take it one step further and push or if they were playing "shark" with their hands, my son would use his teeth and bite. It took a while for us to figure out why he was doing it because the teachers always said it was never done in malice or anger. For him, we finally figured out he was doing it "one up" the other kids to get their attention. The preschool teacher implemented the "green, yellow and red light" chart for all of the kids (but really it was for my son and a small handful of other children). So, they started watching for any rough housing escalation (to be proactive and not reactive) and would give him a verbal warning that if he did not calm down he would get a yellow light. A red light was if he bit or pushed anyone. When I would pick him up, we would discuss the light. If he had a yellow light, we would take away one of his cars. If he would have a green light the next day, he would get the car back. If he would get a red light, all of the cars would be taken away. It would take a long time to get his cars back, since he could only earn 1 car back each day for each green light. If he had 5 green lights in a row, we would go to the store to pick up a brand new race car or get a frosty Jr. from Wendy's ($1). Now, we also talked at length about how if he chose to do things correctly in class, that the other kids would follow him. We also said if someone is behaving incorrectly, he needed to stay away. Within 1 month, everything started to fall into place and now, gosh I have not seen a yellow light since last October! Try figuring out what your childs "currency" is, for my son, it was his Nascar racecars. I was very lucky that the teachers worked with us at length to figure out the root of the problem. I truely think, by the teachers being proactive and constantly watching for any possible situations to escalate, my son learned to stop before anything happened. On the other hand, my sister's son had similar problems, but more severe and she took him to doctors. They called it a "sensory" problem, well now he is on medication and is having trouble with his liver and kidneys because it is a side affect of the medication...he is only 7 years old...so be careful on what you choose to do.

Keeping his hands busy might help him. You could teach him some sign Language and see if this doesn't only help him communicate but also will maybe keep his hand busy rather than touching another person. Keep it simple and fun. Another suggestion if you find something different he can do rather than touching others see if the teacher could put a sticker on his shirt because then it is immediate and he will see that he was doing something right at that point in time and can continue this behavior. Good luck and I hope I was able to help just a little.

I am new mom on maternity leave, but I am also a Kindergarten teacher. Over the years, I have known lot of children who have trouble keeping their hands to themselves in school, especially little boys. The academic pressure put on teachers and students in Kindergarten can be really stressful. Is there time during the day when your child has free time or time to run and play outside? If it is a half day program, there may be no time, but it may be something to ask about.

I do several things in my K class to thwart physical behavior. We talk A LOT about how to take care of our friends/classmates and how we would like our classmates to treat us. In the beginning I do a lot of modeling about how to use words to communicate. Not all kids know how to do this, so I teach them very explicitly. We brainstorm words/phrases to use, "Excuse me, Can I play with you? Stop! I do not like that. I'm sorry." I put them a big chart and we refer to them when conflicts arise. We also have a friendship table where students go to talk and resolve conflicts. It takes a lot of work, but the students eventually learn how to solve their own conflicts, USING THEIR WORDS. I praise them profusely when I see them working together!

Another kind of behavior chart that I have seen work is this:
The teacher, parent, and child all sit down for a conference to discuss the problem and think of a solution. Together, they brainstorm a goal for the child, "I will use my words. I will not hit or touch my friends." Write down the goal and have your child sign his name. Then, create a behavior chart to track his progress. Fold a paper lengthwise in half. Put circles on each side. After every academic activity (or half hour interval, whatever works), the teacher or an aid asks the child if they have met their goal. The child thinks about his/her behavior and either writes a smiley face on the left, or a sad face on the right. (This first needs to be modeled so the child knows what to do.) Talk about the consequences: "I bet Mary is really sad that you hit her. Look at her face. Does she look happy? What can you say to Mary to help her feel better? Can you tell her you will not hit her again?" Or, "Wow, you were such a good friend today! Look, all your friends are smiling because you used your words with them."

This system will help to see if there is a certain time of the day or a specific activity where your son needs more support. Having him make the faces will hopefully help him take ownership and think a little more about his behavior. Depending on what motivates your son, rewards can be given when he has more smiles than frowns. Once your son's behavior improves, you can lessen the amount of times he makes faces and eventually phase out the behavior chart altogether. This is a lot of work for the teacher, and it's really hard to be consistent, but I have seen positive results when everyone is invested (including the child!).

Good luck!

How about shortening the time slots at school so that he's earning a sticker for every 1/2 time increment? Obviously, you'd have to raise the amount of stickers needed for the reward. Or, change the reward to reflect the time increments (ie. if you get 3 stickers in the morning you can ... If you get 3 stickers in the afternoon you get to...)

Good luck!

My son has autism, and a lack of boundaries is a common issue with kids on the spectrum. One thing that I've heard suggested to other moms is to use a hula hoop to teach boundaries. It's a very visual representation of personal space. They suggest having the child sit on the floor, in the middle of the hula hoop (you can get the hoops in different sizes too). Then explain how he needs to stay inside the hoop. The school might even be willing to allow the hoop there, if he's having problems in that environment, until he gets the idea.

First of all, kids don't need examples in how to act out. It is natural for most kids to be physical in some form or another without ever having seen anyone do anything of that nature. Hitting, biting, scratching, and pinching just come to them.

My girls have never seen their father or I be physcial, we don't have television, and we monitor the DVD's they watch and they have both tried to get physical at some point or another even before they started watching DVD's or getting out of the house much.

My brother has two daughters that have had hearing issues since birth due to numerous ear infections and clogged ear canals. They both were pretty aggressive and would often act out with misbehavior. Until their hearing was corrected, they didn't improve.

Is his speach due to hearing problems? Has that been corrected? Is he in speach? Has he been taught to supplement with sign language?

All of the above mentioned could help him to some degree.

My final thought on the matter would be that since you have tried the positive approaches, you need to move on. He does not understand the seriousness of his actions. Your efforts to reward him for not doing negative things is hit or miss. Some negative consequences for negative behavior seems to be your next step. He has to understand that he will suffer in some way that is real to him and really matters to him if he continues to do things you have told him not to do.

He obviously doesn't care about the sticker chart...me personally I haven't met too many kids that care....their long term outlooks aren't developed. They can't see past today and see in the future so the sticker thing is pretty silly if you think about it. Their cognitive development isn't that advanced at that age. I wonder if children even as old as 16, 17, or 18 have a real feel for setting goals and looking forward into the future. Most kids are here and now.

Thus he needs to know there will be immediate negative consequences if he breaks the rules. Talk with his teachers about sitting out during playtimes. If you want to use a reward system, then give him a something like a bag of marbles...everytime he breaks the rules...he loses a marble. At the end of the school day you sit down and count the marbles. I would suggest a tag pinned to his shirt or a necklace he can wear under his shirt. If he loses it during the day for breaking the rules, then he dosen't get a treat after school.

Otherwise I would suggest the immediate consequences approach. He sits out of play, he is separated from the kids, he has to sit in the naughty chair, and so on.

Good luck and God Bless!

Hi N.,

I understand your frustration and concern for your son. It definitely sounds like he is not at all attempting to hurt anyone, just looking to communicate in the best way he knows how: physically.

The only thing I thought of besides the wonderful idea of stickers-if he is motivated by receiving them-is teaching him positive physical ways to communicate: possibly sign language? Sign language uses the hands to communicate and he may enjoy that as he would be able to really get his point across. Kids at that age are very expressive and have so much to say and want to be heard. They're learning so much and I believe he really just wants to be "heard."

There are many places to go to learn sign language, and obviously that means you would be learning with him, bbut it may benefit him greatly. Also, in school maybe the teacher can encourage him to draw whatever he wants to communicate. At that age, children want to put crayon or pencil to paper and this may keep his attention longer. Also instead of poking, raising his hand may work, also.

Good Luck to you and your lovely boy.

With Gratitude,

while my son now 7 hasnt had to much of the hands on he certainly does not understand personal space- part of his sensory integration issue. to me hes very bully like- laughs at other people when they make a mistake, says things over and over "I am better than you at"... My son goes to a catholic school and we are very strict on games and movies for him so he is not getting this from home. I feel like its a low self esteem issue and its classic I feel bad and I am going to make others feel bad- so besides seeing a new psychologist we plan to have him in a social group- I know pediatric place plans so have one over the summer as well as a psychologist offering it and its a group of kids the same age to talk about their problems and how to deall with it- and what they like dont like etc. so they can learn social skills from their peers. from what I hear these groups are very beneficial. so perhaps you can look into that?? good luck!

Hi, in pre-school my little boy's (now 7) teacher gave him a sticker or star in 15 minute intervals (I know he was younger than your son, but maybe start with 1/2 hour intervals) His teacher took a sheet of paper and cut it in quarters vertically and wrote out the time in 15 minute increments (kind of like a day in a day-timer/appointment book)9-9:15, 9-15-9:30, etc. If Lucca got all of the stickers for the day he would get a reward. It also helped to see a pattern--e.g. is he always missing the first sticker in the morning, the last one--helped give an idea if there was a trigger. Of course there are books--My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss is a nice one to try to teach words to explain how you feel. Lucca is still a little more physical than the other kids, and we continue to work on it. We are a very affectionate family, (it could be cultural--my husband is from Brazil) so sometimes we have to explain about school behaviors, home behaviors, etc. This might not be it, but if he watches cartoons, some of them are pretty awful in terms of their physicality. Good luck.

Maybe he need to be touching something or fidgeting with something...See if the teacher would allow him to have a coosh ball or silly putty in his hands at all times...Then he will get sick of that and not touch anyone in the process! Good luck!

Maybe he needs to be in a more specialized classroom. His roughness probably has a lot to do with the frustration he going thru and other kids may make fun of him If baseball is "too close" of a sport, try soccer first. Kids are more spread out across the field. Maybe instead of rewarding him more, you could take away a special toy for a short time when he misbehaves. Good luck mommy. I pray he outgrows this because teachers don't "put up" with behavioral things for very long and it can get rough on him as he gets older if they "label" him as a trouble maker.....and they do do that.

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