In the Toptots classes, a question that frequently arises is that of how to stop young children from hitting either their moms or their peers. This is often an embarrassing scenario for mothers and they may feel unsure about how to address this type of behaviour.
The first thing to remember is that hitting (or biting or pushing) is quite typical in the toddler years, especially while children are still learning to speak and are not yet able to clearly voice their needs or their frustrations. Hitting another child could occur from frustration if, for instance, one’s toy is taken, and hitting mom could be out of frustration of not getting a need or a desire met. However, it is something that needs to be addressed as soon as it starts to prevent the behaviour from continuing. Toddlers are learning all the time, but the question is are they going to learn appropriate behaviours or inappropriate behaviours, and the only people in a position to teach these skills are parents (and to a lesser degree the teachers who see the children on a regular basis).
It is very important for children to learn that certain behaviours are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. They are extremely smart and can learn very quickly to identify which boundaries they can cross and which boundaries are firmly in place and cannot be crossed. It is a normal part of development to test boundaries and see what is tolerated and accepted, however, young children cannot judge for themselves what appropriate behaviour is, and thus they rely on their parents to set clear boundaries so that they can feel secure in the knowledge of what is expected of them in terms of good behaviour.
Children who are consistently allowed to hit (or bite or push) are more likely to view this as appropriate behaviour for when they are frustrated, or angry or just don’t get what they want when they want it! This could ultimately result in them not having friends, because no one really wants to spend time with children who hurt them! It could also result in children engaging in bullying behaviour to get what they want.
Here are some suggestions to assist with these types of behaviours:
- Remember who the parent is: You are not there to be your child’s friend and to give in to their every demand! You are there to set rules and boundaries to help your child feel secure in the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. This will help them to grow up to understand that certain things are not acceptable and to be able to manage their own impulses and behaviour.
- Be consistent in your expectations: This is so important. Your child needs to know that there are certain behaviours that are not acceptable and they will not be tolerated at any time. Both parents (and anyone else who spends time with your child e.g. grandparents, care-givers etc) need to have the same boundaries in place.
- Respond confidently and in a matter of fact way to your child’s inappropriate behaviours: Don’t be scared to reprimand your child. How else will they understand if something is not okay e.g. “I don’t want you to hit.” You don’t need to respond with anger, but just be direct about your expectation.
- If necessary, block your child: if they continue to hit, hold their hands in your own and physically stop them from hitting you/ their peer. Again, this doesn’t have to be done in anger, but just stopping them and again reinforcing “I don’t want you to hit”.
- Remember that it is okay for your child to get angry when you stop him from doing something: Anger is a normal response to not being able to do something that you want to do and this is a typical emotional response. Children need to experience the full range of emotions in order to be able to learn how to process them and deal with them effectively.
- Praise good behaviour: Always remember to praise your child for good behaviour. This is so important in order to validate that they have made good choices and that their behavior is acceptable and pleasing to you. Again, how will they know what good behaviour is, unless it is acknowledged and praised.
Just remember, children are not innately naughty… but they do need to test boundaries and try out different behaviours in order to learn what is appropriate. A lack of routine, structure, discipline and boundaries can result in an increase in negative behaviours, making life more challenging for the child as well as for you as a parent. Setting boundaries early on can make life far easier as your child grows up and understands what is expected of him/her.
Written by Tamaryn Hunter – BSc (Occupational Therapy) – Occupational Therapist