Having your child bite, hit or push another child can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Not only do you feel guilty about another child being hurt, but often people believe that it is learned behaviour. You can breathe easy that not only is it most likely a phase that your child is going through, but it’s also extremely common.
Why does my child hurt others?
This question is best answered by looking at what age your child is. If your little one is under two years old, then their hitting or biting is mostly based on pure curiosity. They want to see what happens when they do it and feed off of the reaction. This is why they will often do it more than once if the person’s reaction is strong enough. If biting is the problem, your child may be trying to relieve their itching gums during teething or need oral stimulation.
From 3 to 4 years old, their aggression may lie in over-bearing emotions. This age group often gets frustrated, angry and annoyed as their brains have not learned impulse control yet. If you find your child lashing out when they are in an upsetting or frustrating situation this may be why. Although their reactions are often a result of development levels, it doesn’t mean that they can’t learn what is right and wrong at this age – that is where the parent comes in.
What can I do to stop my child from hurting other children?
If your child is under two years old, try the following:
- As your baby bites or hits, say a sharp no and move your child away from whatever or whomever they hurt.
- Keep consistent in this reaction and eventually your baby will learn that this is the only reaction they will get and stop doing it.
- If your baby is biting while feeding or being held, make sure their gums aren’t itchy or painful. If this seems to be the problem, try using some teething gel or a cold, clean washcloth for them to chew on instead of you.
- Your baby might be biting as a part of an age-appropriate oral fixation. If they are chewing their hands and any item they can get in their mouth and they are not teething this may be the case. Makes sure they have clean and safe items to mouth on.
If your child is between three and four, try the following:
- When the incident occurs act quickly and calmly.
- Remove your child from the immediate situation and other people if possible.
- Bend down to their level and use clear and concise words like “We don’t bite/hit/push. You are not allowed to hurt *Jane. Biting/hitting/pushing is wrong.”
- It is at this point that you give them a basic choice to make “You must say sorry to *Jane or we must leave here” or “You must make Jane feel better or you can play quietly by yourself”.
- Whatever their choice, follow through with it. If they repeat the action, then make sure that you leave the situation completely without giving your child another choice.
- Remember that this age group has not learned to have empathy yet, so saying “How would you feel’ will go over their heads.
Top tips to help stop your child acting aggressively
- Remind your child consistently that hurting others is wrong. Repetition is the key.
- Reinforce good behaviour. When you see your child using words rather than physical action, or walking away from something that upsets them, make sure you congratulate them for it.
- Learn what triggers the aggressive behaviour in your child. Perhaps it is when they are over-tired, haven’t eaten, or are out of their routine that they lash out. If this is the case, do what you can to avoid their triggers.
- Start teaching your child words such as ‘no’, ‘stop’ and ‘mine’. Traditionally, these words were deemed as rude. However, if your child does not have a verbal way to express themselves, they are more prone to lashing out physically.
- Let your child socialise with others as much as possible. When they are placed in enough social situations, they often learn appropriate behaviour from other children. Try a Parent and Child class like Toptots where you can monitor their progress and reactions.
Toptots Early Learning SA