This is a question that came up during a Mommy & Me class that I was conducting at Capistrano Valley School District last week: “What should I do if another family member’s child is hitting my child (or playing aggressively)?”

It’s certainly sad for parents to watch a more aggressive child continue to beat up on their child, and most of the time, the children just continue to play. This is a sensitive subject, and the only thing that you can do, without getting into an argument with a relative (or losing a friend), is to “model” for the other parent what their child shouldn’t be doing. For example, go and pick up your child and say to him/her in a loud voice, “we don’t hit in our family. If you play and get hit, you don’t play anymore.” Then walk to other side of the room with your child, or somewhere you can distance yourself from the aggressive child momentarily.

Continue to model that scenario so that the child who is hitting gets the message, but also so that the other parent knows what you’re going to do to keep your child safe. Modeling also enables your son/daughter to understand how to deal with a child who is not being nice. You are teaching your child NOT to have a relationship with the hitting child. At some point, modeling will hopefully open up a safe dialogue with your relative or friend, where you both agree that the children should be separated immediately and play should be stopped if there is hitting or other aggressive behavior. And when you see the children playing nicely, be sure to encourage them by saying things like, “I love the way you’re playing; your hands are sharing toys together; your hands are picking up crayons together; or great job playing so well together!”