Thursday, August 12, 2010
Logical Consequences: Hitting and Biting
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Scenario #4: Hitting and Biting
Hitting and biting, we are still dealing with some of these behaviors on occasion and I can't figure out why. We never spank, our almost 2 year old son is never around other kids that hit, he just gets mad sometimes or thinks it's funny and he will hit or bite.
As a parent, this can be a hard situation to handle. For one thing, no one wants to be the parent with the child who hits or bites other children. You feel bad. I think there are a couple of areas we need to look at here. One is what do we do when this situation occurs. Another is what do we do to prevent this from happening in the future. Let's first take the what to do.
Of my three, I have had one hitter. That was Kaitlyn. She only (to my knowledge) ever hit Brayden. He was never an innocent party. But, to me, it doesn't matter how provoked you are to do something; it isn't okay--at least in the realm of the world of what my little toddler was experiencing. I don't care if your brother can be bossy, you don't hit.
As I think through what is being abused in the situation of hitting or biting, it is another person. So for Kaitlyn, if she hit Brayden, she was not allowed to play with him any more. The length of time varied on her age. It wasn't ever longer than until after the next sleep period. This actually worked quite well. Brayden and Kaitlyn like playing with each other, and since Kaitlyn was usually hitting because Brayden was being too bossy and wouldn't let her have a say, it gave him motivation to not be so bossy because he wanted to be able to play with her.
So for me, no matter the age, hitting and biting leads to immediate isolation. The length of time for that is dependent upon the age of the child.
Sweep in immediately and let your child know the behavior was not acceptable. This doesn't mean you have to yell or scream or call him names. None of those actions are good ideas. Empathy can be quite effective, "That is too bad you hit Jimmy! Now we can't play with him anymore today. We will have to go now (or You will have to sit on the chair next to me while the other children play)." But when it comes to certain situations, I would be more firm and less empathetic. Like if Brayden hit one of his sisters or Kaitlyn hit McKenna as a baby. Again, no yelling, but I would be with that child as fast as I am with freshly baked cookies....although I wouldn't look so pleased.
It would be a no-nonsense sweep that would go something like this, "That is a no. You do not hit a baby. You will now go sit on the couch until ______. That is absolutely not okay." And they would know by the look on my face that they had just messed up big time.
I must also point out, though, that you need to always be in tune and take each situation case by case. My blanket thought on how I would react is as I just described, but the one time I was faced with a similar situation, the reaction was quite different. Whatever you do, don't lose your temper. Stay calm--but that doesn't mean you can't be firm.
While isolation might serve as a deterrence for hitting and biting, I don't think it will solve it. This is telling your child the behavior is not okay, but I don't think it alone will completely stop the behavior in the future.
So the next step it to try to identify why the child is doing this. Under what circumstances does the child hit or bite? Is it if she doesn't get her way? Is it if he can't communicate what he wants to? Is it really only happening when he is tired?
Try to identify the motivation. I knew for Kaitlyn it was when Brayden was being overbearing in the playing situation. Once you have identified why, you need to figure out how to remove this why from your child's life if possible.
So I first talked to Brayden about it and explained why she was hitting and what he could do about it. I then talked with Kaitlyn about why it wasn't okay to hit. I told her that it hurt people and that it didn't show love. I told her I knew she was hitting because she was mad, but that didn't make it okay. I explained that even if we are very mad, we cannot hit other people.
You can never remove every frustration from the child's life, so you have to teach the child what to do instead of hitting and biting. I think it is also vitally important that you don't make excuses for your child. Don't blame the child's action on another child and don't apologetically tell a parent, "he is just so tired!" You can apologize and have him do the same, but don't be making excuses. That will teach him that his behavior is justifiable and that he is not responsible for it.
Back to teaching the child what to do instead. I instructed Kaitlyn that if Brayden was making her very mad that she should come talk to me about it instead of hitting.
For some people, it won't be as cut and dry as it was with Kaitlyn. She was hitting in isolated instances and only one person. It was an easy mystery to solve. It also helps that she has always been an excellent communicator who is quite eloquent for her age, so she could fill me in on her feelings quite well.
Some of you might have a child who hits or bites seemingly randomly and out of the blue. This will be a harder case to crack. All I can say is to study and pray. Analyze the situation. Maybe even keep a log. He hit Suzie today completely unprovoked. What was the circumstance? How had meals gone? How had sleep gone? Is he getting too much unsupervised time in the day? How long had he been playing with Suzie? Maybe he can only handle interaction with other children for a certain amount of time before he needs a break. Take note of the instances and you will likely see some sort of pattern emerge.
In my experience, hitting or biting usually happens more if 1) the child is tired or hungry 2) the child is overstimulated in some way (this can include too much playtime) 3) the child is trying to communicate and is unable 4) the child is frustrated with another child or person. So to combat these simply, you would 1) keep child well rested and on regular meals 2) keep play times short and activities appropriate 3) help child learn to sign and say simple words 4) try to teach child to control anger while doing what you can to have other children share and play nicely.
This isn't an easy process. You will not solve this in a day, week, or even month. It is going to take time and patience on your part. Today, Kaitlyn does not hit. There are times when she is super frustrated and she screams that blood-curdling scream, which is preferable to hitting, but still not my ultimate solution. So we are still working on everyone. So keep working at it and you will get there.
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