When your child is hitting, biting or pushing
Are you a parent racking your brain trying to figure out how to get your little one to stop hitting, biting, or pushing other people?
The good news is, it’s really common. The bad news for you is, it’s still your child doing it and you have to deal with it.
For babies, this is a way to explore the world through cause and effect. Besides teething, babies bite to see what you’ll do. If you laugh, they might try it again to get the same reaction. If you get mad, that baby might be fascinated by your reaction, not quite understanding facial reactions and meaning.
For toddlers, they may have seen other children do it. They might do it because they’re angry, upset, hurt or excited and don’t have the means to express it differently.
Both babies and toddlers could be pushing, biting or hitting because they feel overwhelmed, bored, overtired or hungry.
No matter why your child is doing it, it can be frustrating and embarrassing for parents. But know that it’s not about you. It’s not your failure as a parent. When we think our child’s behaviour with us is a reflection on ourselves, we bring a lot of baggage with our response.
Now’s the time to manage it calmly.
“I like to explain to parents that these kinds of behaviours aren’t usually appropriate, but are age-appropriate and can come from a place of frustration in children,’ says Claire, an educator at our Nerang Campus.
“Biting is common around the age where children are beginning to learn how to talk and can’t quite get the words out and are frustrated.”
It is important to ensure when you are guiding a child’s behaviour to label the behaviour and not the child, Claire says. Telling them they’re being bad or naughty isn’t effective, and it isn’t likely to change the behaviour. Remember, every child is good. They are learning everything, including regulating and dealing with emotions and impulse control.
Claire also recommends not projecting your own feelings about your child’s negative behaviour. For example, try not to make statements like ‘Stop it, you’re making Mummy sad’ or ‘Look what you did!’ Try to remember that your child is learning empathy, so putting shame or guilt on their actions won’t fix the negative actions.
So how do you respond?
Stay calm. Your emotions can set the tone for how to bring down a heightened moment. By yelling or immediately punishing, you’re giving that undesirable behaviour attention. It’s also modelling explosive reactions, like what you as a parent are trying to adjust.
A calm, firm response could look like ‘Hitting/Biting/Pushing is never OK. I won’t let you hurt your brother.’ If the behaviour continues, a follow-up ‘I’ll move your brother over here to keep everyone safe.’
This sets and actions the boundary for behaviour. Once everyone is calmed down, that’s a better opportunity to teach coping skills, according to Sarah, an educator in our Senior Kindy studio from Deception Bay.
“Calm approach, sometimes for the older children, they need that time to themselves let them have their rage in a safe way, of course. There is no point in trying to get them to calm down when they are in the state they are in. It’s best to wait and then talk to them once they are ready,” she says.
Understanding those emotions
If you feel your child is old enough to have a conversation about what happened, you could follow with, ‘You seem to have a hard time not pushing, I wonder why that is?’ If they tell you what/who is bothering them, you could tell/make up a similar story and tell them how you handled it. By modelling a response to a negative feeling, parents can help children understand and regulate their emotions.
Brooke, a Schoolies educator also at our Deception Bay campus also suggests asking the child what they need in that time can help.
“Every child is different and an approach that will work with one might not necessarily work for another or might not work every time which makes things difficult,” Brooke says. “I feel like asking the children what they need in that time is a big thing in diffusing a situation, because some children could want the space, where others may need a hug to feel safe and secure.”
Hayley, an educator also at Deception Bay in our toddler studio, agrees how the situation is dealt with is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
“I would say it would depend on the situation, age group and other factors,” Hayley says. “If it’s a child that’s not going to stop, I would then definitely redirect either to a different activity or to someone that they feel more comfortable with. For example, say it’s a child from the Senior Kindy room who’s just moved up to the Kindergarten room, you could ask them, ‘hey would you like to go see (previous educator)?’ if they say yes, it removes them from the situation, and it’s the child’s choice too.”
“I also like to give them a choice when redirecting so, ‘hey I know you’re frustrated, would you like to go run outside or do you want to do some painting?”
Helping to recognise others have feelings
Some experts also recommend trying to fight the impulse to force your child to apologise. Children need to focus on learning to regulate those emotions, if you’re asking more of the child by forcing an apology, it’s likely to make them more frustrated or ashamed, and they won’t do what you’re asking, and certainly won’t feel like they’re being seen. They will learn apologies in time, but we don’t want them to think ‘when I’m sad I should say sorry’ but rather ‘when I’m sad I should think about what made me sad, take deep breaths, count to 10.’
However, it’s still important for your child to understand that other people have feelings too, so you could say, rather than forcing an apology, ‘Let’s see how we can make him feel better.” By involving your child in the resolution rather than ordering them to do something, you’ll likely see better results.
Focusing on the positive behaviours
“Praise your children when they are doing something positive, even on the days it feels like all they have done is bite or hit,” Claire adds. “Soon enough they will be chasing the positive reinforcement and be replacing the negative behaviours with more positives.”
Guiding positive behaviour is a goal of Little Scholars by creating a safe environment for the children within our studios.
“This is guided by John Bowlby’s attachment theory,” explains Chloe, an educational lead at our Redland Bay South campus. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life.
“Every morning upon arrival, we create a warm welcome space for the children to be dropped off to. Once the children feel a sense of belonging within their learning environment, they are able to venture off and participate in the day’s learning.
“Respect and care are important parts of our day-to-day curriculum and is embedded in our learning by educating the children on their emotions identifying how they feel through use of conversation and cues, and guiding them in strategies that can assist with the way they are feeling,” she continues. “With these embedded practices, it helps to eliminate those rough behaviours.”
For more information:
When anger turns physical – ParentTV
Name it to tame it Parenting Strategy – ParentTV