Why does my toddler bite, kick and hit and what can I do to prevent it?

The very first time you see your child lash out, at you, a relative or another child is always a shock!  However, remember they are very small (behaviour such as this can start as early as 12 months) and they do not know any different.

The first thing to consider is how to make sure this behaviour does not become commonplace and how to deal with it.  Your child does not yet understand the difference between right and wrong, and even if he or she is able to talk, at this early stage, vocabulary is limited and often hitting, punching, smacking, even biting are signs of frustration at not being able to communicate.  You have to admit, that smack got your attention or the other child’s attention, or adult – so it worked!

Do not think it is isolated to your child, it is common and a normal stage of growing and learning.  For example, it may be that they want a particular toy another child is using – if this is the case, it is time to show them all about “sharing”.  Your turn, you say and give them a few minutes with the toy and then the other child gets his or her turn (this may result in crying and a tantrum but persevere as they WILL understand the concept).

During the first few years of life emotions run high and all of these “violent” actions are almost “caveman” like!  It does not mean a lifetime of anti-social behaviour and there is no cause for alarm – remember, your toddler is, actually, uncivilised!  It is up to you to teach her or him how to eat, how to go to the toilet and you have to help him or her walk, talk, dress, wash – so it is another behaviour that needs to be explained and taught.

Along with a tantrum, using parts of the body to enforce what your child wants is a powerful communication tool.  It is up to you to firstly understand why they are doing it.  Sometimes it is simply to push those boundaries that we talk about so much,  certainly at the 12 month mark they do it to gain a reaction but by age 2 they do realise that by hitting, biting or smacking they will get attention, for example, are you busy chatting to another mum?  Well – they know how to grab your attention – a quick thump for a sibling or another child will stop you in your tracks because you will stop what you are doing immediately!

Using biting, hitting and similar is simply a way for your toddler to express how cross he or she is, that they can’t have any more chocolate, that they want the toy they can’t play with, that you are paying too much attention to something else…luckily for some of you, it may only happen once or twice but for some it does become habitual.  Be assured that they do grow out of it due to better use of vocabulary and the ability to understand how to regulate their own emotions, normally by age 3.

However, you shouldn’t wait until they are old enough to grow out of it – you must deal with it as soon as it happens to stop it becoming acceptable to your child.  Here are some of my pointers to help your child stop this behaviour:

–          The first time it happens (if you can!) you may find you react with a smile (it’s shock) as if to say “you cheeky thing” – your toddler will think that you find it amusing and think it’s a game, so probably do it again – so try not to smile or laugh (yes, this is hard)

–          Take a deep breath and try your hardest not to shout at your child

–          Be serious and firm

–          Respond consistently, this will help your child understand that this behaviour is unacceptable.

–          Be aware of what triggers the behaviour, is it because they are tired?  If so, re-address bed-time; or a longer nap in the afternoon. Children become irritable when they are tired.  Is your little one hungry?  Hunger can also bring on angry behaviour.

–          Distract your child, if you see something brewing, point out a pretty picture, make a silly face, find another toy – children have a short attention span so there is a good chance you can diffuse the situation before it starts.

–          Use a naughty step or corner.  By removing your child from the situation and placing them in “solitary” even for just 2 minutes at a time, they will eventually understand that they have been naughty and this is their punishment.  Lengthen the time by a minute each time the hitting/biting etc occurs.  If they come away/off the naughty corner/step then put them back until their time is up

If your child still continues to hit, bite, kick or punch then introduce other punishments, like no TV, put them to bed, take them home from their playdate.  Ban chocolate for a couple of days.  Explain why you are doing this and when they have been good for a period of time, re-introduce the television, have a friend over, give them a treat.

For more information and some expert help please contact Alyson at Shannon ChildCare on 020 8958 6630.