Kids will push, pull hair, bite, and express themselves aggressively. This should come as no real surprise. Kids lash out because they’re frustrated by a problem that feels too big for them. They haven’t learned how to control their impulsive behavior or how to work out conflict in an acceptable way.
Even though your child may not be able to verbally express their frustration, you can begin teaching them at a very young age that aggressive behavior is not the proper way to show anger, whether it’s biting, pushing, or hitting. So whether your child is simply going through the “terrible twos,” or struggling with more difficult problems, there is hope. You can turn things around with the proper responses and tools. Here are your first steps:
ALWAYS Stay Calm
At any age, if your child expresses a lot of emotion and you counter that with your own elevated emotions, it can cause the child to react even more. Instead, show your child how to stay steady and calm. You can be firm and gentle at the same time. My dad used to call it having an iron fist in a velvet glove. You gently, but firmly talk to your child, holding their hands if needed. Their age and understanding will determine exactly what you say to them.
NEVER Give in to Tantrums or Aggressive Behavior
Whether it’s in Target because they want a toy or at home because they are angry and don’t want to share, giving in at the point of their aggression will reinforce that behavior. Their aggressive behavior should never be rewarded, no matter how desperate you feel in the moment.
TEACH them how to Express Their Emotions
When your child is angry and hits their sibling, you can take their hand and sit down with them and say, “I know you are angry with your brother right now, but hitting is not the way to express your anger.” First of all, this validates their feelings and second, it helps them know how to explain it verbally.
When they are little, they don’t need a long explanation, they just need to know that physical aggression is not the way to express anger. As they get older, the conversation can expand to discussions of why they are angry and how to handle their anger without hurting someone else.
RECOGNIZE Patterns and Triggers
What makes their fuse shorter? Are they hungry? Tired? Or maybe they get easily upset about sharing with a sibling because they feel they are always being picked on or left out. There is always a why behind your child’s what and understanding what those patterns and triggers are can help you become proactive about shutting down aggressive behavior.
WHAT About Biting?
I’ve had many parents over the years talk about getting that call from daycare or church nursery: “Your child is biting the other kids.” Unfortunately, there is no magic anti-biting formula.
Use the other tools we’ve discussed: stay calm and firm, and talk about other ways to express anger. In addition, I would add these thoughts:
If you are there when it happens, comfort the child who was bitten. And then, comfort the biter. That may sound crazy, but often kids do not realize that biting actually hurts and when they see the other child crying, it may upset them too. If they are fully aware of what they did and that it DOES hurt, then of course, they do not need comfort, they instead need to apologize to their victim.
The key is your consistent response to the aggressive behavior, whether it’s at daycare or at home. That’s hard when you are not with your child all day, but work with your caregivers on how to respond to the aggressive behavior in a way that is consistent at home or at daycare or school.
Many parents may think, “my child has a biting problem, ” but the problem is not the biting. The problem is inappropriately expressing their anger and frustration. Biting is just one way that many kids vent. Your goal is not simply to get your child to quit biting, or hitting, or pulling hair, your goal is to help your child recognize anger and learn that there are appropriate ways to explain and express it.
This is important: If your child’s aggressive behavior does not respond to these tools used consistently, please seek the help of child professional to find out if there are other mental or physical issues contributing to the behavior.
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