Correcting Toddler Behavior - Biting, Hitting, & Throwingby Danielle Haines | July 28, 2008 12:00 AM
Shocking as it may be, aggressive behaviors, such as biting, hitting, and throwing things are a normal part of your toddler's development. It is a part of a child learning self-control. Usually, toddlers phase out of bad behaviors by age four. Still-emerging language skills, a fierce desire to become independent, and undeveloped impulse control make children this age prime candidates for getting physical. That doesn't mean you should ignore it, of course. Let your toddler know that aggressive behavior is unacceptable and show him other ways to express his feelings.
While it is crucial to accept the premise that biting is an age-appropriate behavior for toddlers, it is just as important to accept that biting is not an acceptable behavior. Adults must help toddlers control their urge to bite other children by responding quickly and firmly.
First, the biting child should be stopped with a firm "no!". At the same time that the adult speaks, the adult should act. Ideally, one adult steps in to help the victim while another stops the biting child. Where this is not possible, the biting child should usually be dealt with first. Discipline for toddlers is most effective when it occurs immediately after the unacceptable action. The biting child should be removed from the situation in the form of redirection of attention or time-out.
Preventing biting before it happens is better than dealing with it after it occurs. Consequently, adults should carefully observe the moods and needs of toddlers. When a child is exhibiting low tolerance for frustration, or when a child has a history of biting, or when a child is teething, adults must pay especially close attention to the potential-biting child.
Toddlers are fascinated with what they can make happen over and over and they are also curious about how people react in different situations. Hitting people satisfies both of these interests. Furthermore, toddlers see the world only from their own point of view and therefore don't understand that other people have different ideas and feelings than they do.
Don't be afraid to let your child know you are angry. Use it as a teaching moment. You are not trying to frighten or browbeat the child into submission. You are trying to express anger constructively, so your child will know how it's managed.
1. Stop the physical aggression immediately. If your child has hit you, don't let him/her hit you repeatedly. Grip their wrist firmly, and say with equal firmness, "No hitting. You do not hit me. You can be angry, but you may not hit."
2. Expect compliance. Do not let go of the wrist until you can feel the tension leave the child. If you misjudge, and they swing at you again when you let go, repeat the step above, and hold longer. Wait for him/her to relax. Repeat your words. Keep this up for as long as it takes. Be gentle, be firm, but be unyielding.
3. When they begin to relax, praise/encourage them.
4. When the child is no longer coiled to strike, praise them again. Give, and receive, a hug with the child. This is not letting them away with it. They need to know it's all right to be angry, that they can be angry, they can express it in other ways, and that they're still loved, even if they experience anger.
5. Quickly move on to the next thing.
Remember, that just as your child has the right to expect you to treat them respectfully, you have the right to be treated respectfully by your child. If this is your consistent response, you will greatly reduce or even entirely eliminate hitting in a matter of weeks.
When Your Toddler Says "No"
Saying the word no is a necessary part of being a toddler. Kids this age are driven by the need to make their own decisions, to be autonomous, and to control their world, and the way they express these needs is through the word no. If you're the parent of a toddler, you'll hear it morning, noon, and night.
Don't try to talk your little one out of it, and don't forbid it. "No" is not optional. Kids this age can be worked with, however. If you encourage their feelings of autonomy and power, you'll lessen the number of "no's" in your family. Here are a few suggestions:
- Give your child choices so she feels a sense of control over her world. "Apple juice or carrot juice?" "Would you like me to help you into your stroller, or do you want to do it yourself?"
- Encourage independence by letting them do things for themselves, and setting up their environment so they can. This may mean putting toys in bins, keeping cups for water on low shelves, putting stools near sinks, and generally making your home more child-friendly. Enroll your child as your assistant. Let your child be a participant in family work and she'll feel needed and powerful in her ability to help.
- Don't expect your child to always be nice, and don't take her "no" personally. Your child is not defiant, angry, or negative-she's a toddler saying "no."
When Your Toddler Throws Things
Toddlers are delighted by cause-and-effect relationships. By dropping and throwing objects, your budding scientist is discovering gravity just as Sir Isaac Newton did some 300 years ago. Spoons clatter, cups crash, but Cheerios make almost no sound at all. Each of these revelations is magical to your little one. Part of his delight comes from being able to relive the discovery over and over. Here's what to keep in mind so you survive this stage:
He's not acting out. Your pitcher-in-training's predilection for tossing is not an act of defiance or aggression. Sometimes it's your preverbal toddler's only means of communication. An empty sippy cup thrown on the floor could mean he's still thirsty and wants more. Become attuned to what's being thrown and you might learn to better understand his needs.
You can set limits. Tell him what may and may not be thrown (balls good, food bad), and where throwing is okay, preferably outdoors and not from his high chair. Gently say "No throwing," and shake your head firmly with a serious look on your face. If he persists, tell him: "If you want to throw, I'll take you out of the high chair and we'll go in the backyard and play catch." Then follow through. As long as you're calm and consistent, he will learn.
All toddlers will exhibit all of these inappropriate behaviors, so do not feel like you are alone. Your toddler is beginning to express himself, show independence, and experiment with limits. Your job is to redirect the behavior, and show him that these bad behaviors are not appropriate and will not be tolerated. With time, patience, and by following through your toddler will eventually outgrow this phase.Danielle Haines is a freelance writer for Baby Corner. She is currently married and has 2 girls ages 3 and 1.
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