Friday, February 26, 2010

Tip of the Week: Why Children Hit, Shove and Bite

I remember picking my three-year-old daughter up from one of her first drop-off experiences and being told by the teacher that my daughter had bitten one of the other children. The teacher said she wasn’t sure who the child was, but that she would let me know after she spoke to the other teacher. Of course I was mortified, but my friend and I laughed as we put our daughter’s coats on and discussed how to handle what was inevitably something that all parents would have to go through. Then the laughter abruptly stopped as the teacher came over to explain to me that my daughter had actually bitten my friend’s daughter... awkward!! After that, lunch was a little uncomfortable to say the least. I couldn’t understand what would have possessed my sweet little girl to do something like that, especially to her friend!

So, why do toddlers bite, hit and shove their peers when it is so socially unacceptable to their parents? According to W. George Scott, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Child Development at Tufts University, “Just as it is with adults, when kids are irritable it's harder for them to control themselves. To develop into maturity is to learn good ways to deal with one's anger and frustrations. But none of us does that on our own."

According to Michelle Borba, Educational Consultant, Ed.D, and author of "No More Misbehaving", "Some little critters just don't have that inner regulatory system yet," she says. "They will continue to hit if you don't stop it. We forget that aggression can very easily become a habit, just like whining and talking back."

I have had time now both as a mother and teacher to think about this, and while I believe all of this to be true, I think a good deal of this comes from the child’s lack of ability to communicate their frustration or fears. Also, with young children, they are constantly testing boundaries to see what will happen if they do something, and unfortunately for parents that includes unacceptable behavior.

Since “the biting incident”, as it is fondly referred to at our house, I’ve learned the following things about behavior both as a parent and as a teacher of toddlers.

1) Even if it is an isolated incident, address the behavior immediately.
2) Get down on the child’s level and explain to them calmly yet with intent that this behavior is unacceptable.
3) Ask them if they understand what they did wrong, and to apologize to their friend.
4) Do not address aggression with aggression. You should be a good role model for you child.
5) Ask your child what they should do next time, instead of hitting or biting their friend, when they become upset about something.

Most importantly, do not brush off bad behavior. As difficult as it can be as a parent, every time you disregard bad behavior or “pick your battles” you are telling your child that the bad behavior was acceptable, and they will continue to do it.

Looking for even more information? Click here for an article all about child aggression.

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