Biting, Hitting and Kicking, Oh My

All kiddos will try out these fun and exciting behaviors, although no mother, or father, wants their child to be the one who is biting…or hitting…or kicking. How do we get our little ones around (and through) this difficult “phase”? The answer? Early intervention. If these behaviors go unchecked into the threes and fours they can result in potentially long-term aggressive behavior. And none of us want that for our loved ones! One of my Applied Behavior Analysis mentors once told me “you gotta teach them EVERYTHING”. I can’t tell you how many times a day this phrase runs through my head. Get it into yours, because it’s not just a “phase” and they won’t just grow out of it. They need your help to learn it!


Another mantra to keep going: repetition, repetition, repetition. Don’t assume that your child knows how to behave until you have repeatedly taught them and shown them how to behave. Not just once, twice, three times….more! Review it over and over again. Each and every day.

What kind of teaching can you implement right now?

Here are a six things that you can put into action TODAY to help your young child learn how not to HIT, BITE or KICK. The first three I will only mention briefly, they mostly go without saying (I hope)…and they are topics in and of themselves…so I will only list them here and not go into detail. It is likely, I’ll write posts on them at a later time…

1) Don’t spank

2) Limit exposure to TV

3) Limit time outs

(this third one I will write more about later…time-outs are WAY over utilized)

On to what you CAN do, YAY!

4) Teach social skills on a DAILY basis

When I was working with kiddos with special needs this was a primary focus of our work, for a very good reason…which you don’t need me to tell you. Lo-and behold! They are just as important for little kiddos without special needs! Luckily, they are very easy to teach through simple modeling. You do it, they watch, they learn, they absorb it. Then you do it again. Return to your mantra from above (repetition, in case you already forgot). This works for all the following behaviors:

  • How to share
  • How to say “please” and “thank you”
  • What it looks like to be helpful
  • How to comfort someone who is upset
  • How to listen
  • How to tell others how you feel instead of acting out your feelings by hitting, pushing, etc.
  • How to compromise
  • How to comfort yourself when you don’t get your way
  • How to stand in line without touching others

And guess what? The best modelers (that’s you) are the ones who do it in a FUN way…teach them through play! Make up scenarios that are goofy but address social skills…and do it again… and again…and they will get it!

Ex. Make up a story about your childs stuffed elephant wanting to kick his stuffed giraffe because the giraffe took the elephants top hat….include details such as how the giraffe would feel, what would happen to the elephant afterwards, what a better way to deal with it would be, etc. Even if you think your child is not ‘getting’ it, remember they understand way more than you think they do.

5) Don’t get sucked into an argument

If you have one of those kiddos that will begin a power struggle the first thing you AS THE ADULT must do is ignore it. It’s hard. Very hard. But the less you think about WHAT they are saying the more CALM you will become. And CALM will result in a teachable moment whereas screaming back at them will not.

One phrase I’ve heard mothers say (once CALM!) is “I love you too much to argue.” Done, say no more.

If you repeatedly treat power struggles like this they will become less and less frequent. Whereas if you take the other route and get “sucked in” the opposite will happen. Which one sounds more enjoyable? Hmmmm.

6) Differential reinforcement

Huh? What, you don’t commonly use that term? It’s a research-based behavioral strategy where you strengthen a desirable behavior while decreasing the likelihood of undesirable behavior. Right? Right.

  1. watch your child
  2. when you see them doing something that you want go over to them and get down on their level
  3. smile, pat or hug and state that you “noticed they were…” but be DESCRIPTIVE in what you saw them doing…”I noticed you were sharing that toy with Darwin” instead of “good job” or “you’re being such a sweet boy!”

“I love how you are each playing with your own flour pan….”

The other side of differential reinforcement is not giving too much attention to the “undesirable” behaviors. If a child sees that they are getting exponentially more attention because you are pulling them out, warning them, or lecturing them they WILL DO IT MORE.

So, in a nut shell: give more attention for the good, and less for the bad. Easy peasy.

So…is it guaranteed that if you do these 6 simple steps your child will never hit, bite or kick? Nope, because we are all individuals. But they will help :)

Just remember:


Repetition, repetition, repetition


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