Blog 4

Why Children Hit and the Thinking Brain

Blog by Sabina Veronelli


How we deal with aggression at Rachel’s Place

Do some Special time before childcare.

At Rachel's place we are committed to meeting children's right for safety, connection and wellbeing, as stated in our Relationships Policy and Behavioural Guidance Policy.

Our policies are based on core values in our philosophy: We wish to provide an environment that allows every child to be safe and connected, blossom and thrive. The foundations of our approach lie in attachment research (Hoffman, K., Cooper, G., Powell, B.) and the neuroscience of relationships (Siegel, D, Cozolino, L.).

Why children hit and the thinking brain:

There are many reasons why children may hit. This article that we published in a previous newsletter explains why it may happen, and what parents may do when it happens.

In this newsletter we are going to focus on how we deal with aggressive behaviour when it happens here at Rachel’s Place.

Aggression is a sign that a child has ‘flipped their lid’, as Dan Siegel would say. Their brain may have interpreted something in the environment as danger, or some emotion may be so intense that the thinking brain has shut down: in this state children cannot think, manage their feelings, communicate, listen, remember or learn well. They resort to survival responses such as fight, flight or freeze. It happens to everybody to ‘Flip the lid’, yet much more frequently to young children because of the immaturity of their brain.

When it happens, we can support young children in regaining their ability to think, play well with their friends, and communicate, doing co-regulation. Co-regulation is a very important relational task parents and educators have. It involves regulating our own emotions, staying calm, while we support children in calming their body and mind. As the body and mind relax, the pre-frontal cortex - the thinking brain- reactivates, and children regain their ability to think, communicate, remember how to play gently with their friends again.

How we do this at Rachel’s place, when children are aggressive:

First of all, as stated by Behaviour Guidance Policy, we intervene promptly to interrupt aggression and restore safety for everyone. We attend to the child who has been hit, and to the one who hit.

Often a child who hits or bites is feeling frustrated, angry or indignant. Children can have big emotions they can hardly control, because of the immaturity of their brain. As we set a limit on unacceptable behaviour, we acknowledge and validate children’s feelings: all emotions are acceptable, but not all behaviour is.

We help children calm their bodies and minds through body-based strategies such as breathing, release of energy and sensory play. Our goal is to help diffuse the feelings that led to aggression, and regain a state of balance.

Breathing is a strategy we often use with children, dressing it up playfully: we may do ‘lion breaths’, make bubbles, or follow some visual prompts.

Sensory play is another popular strategy: play dough, slime, kinetic sand, mud play, or the little toys in the calm/down kit can help a child focus the attention on their senses, thus calming the body and mind.

Other times we find healthy ways to release the aggressive energy, such as stomping feet, or a paper ball fight.

Once children can think again, we invite them to tell us the story of what happened. Our aim is to understand their perspective, and find together alternative ways of dealing with similar situations.

Example: A young child may try and snatch a toy off his friend’s hands, interpret the friend’s resistance as alarming, and push the friend away. Part of building social skills is helping children interpret data they do not fully understand yet.

Young children are in a egocentric developmental stage: they think everybody sees the world as they do, and they can only focus on one thing at a time. You may guess how this perspective can make interactions harder: a child who snatches a toy off their friend’s hands thinks that the friend knows about his desire, so he doesn’t even think of asking for it, and interprets legitimate resistance as refusal.

Communication and understanding as tools for learning:

As children learn to communicate desires and boundaries, with the assistance of educators, they understand they have agency, and that communication can make things happen. We call this skill building, and it is at the core of our everyday work with children.

Another part of our work consists in understanding children’s needs, sensitivities, and interests, and adjust environment, routines and educational program accordingly.

Every child develops in a different way, and has unique traits, personality, needs, and sensitivities. A child may be particularly sensitive to sensory information, such as noise and movement, while another may not notice it. A child may pick up words easily, while another may struggle a bit. A child may engage with interest in art work, while another may prefer constructions. Adjusting routines, environments and programs in a way that suits needs and interests provides a safe and engaging environment for all.

When extra help is needed:

Sometimes children may need more help than we can provide. In these cases we work in partnership with families and external professionals, as needed in each specific situation, to identify and implement the support, tools and strategies that meet a child’s needs and create a suitable environment which fosters everybody’s wellbeing.

This process can at times be complex, yet it brings forth great results, eliminating most occurrences of aggression.

We wish to prevent all aggressive behaviour, yet sometimes there are accidents. Sometimes it all happens too fast. But as we work to prevent most occurrences of aggression, and intervene promptly to stop all of them and re-establish safety for everybody, we teach children skills to regulate their emotions, communicate their needs, set boundaries, negotiate and reach shared solutions.

It is our duty to keep children safe, and it is our goal to teach children skills that will make them confident and resilient people, able to navigate social situations in a safe and healthy way.

Family Involvement

Opening Hours

  • Monday – Friday: 7:30am to 5:45pm


  • 111 Vulture Street, West End, Brisbane, QLD, Australia, 4101

Phone Number

Rachel's Place is an inviting community focused, independent child care centre. We create a safe and nurturing community for all who walk through our door.