Does your kiddo take swings when she gets frustrated? Or maybe biting is more her bag? Don't worry, some level of aggressive acting out is a normal part of the early years and almost all young kids hit or bite or kick at some point. What matters more is how you deal with it. Here, 15 simple ways stop the violence and help your child learn other ways to express his emotions.
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Use Sign Language
If your pre-verbal child is lashing out of frustration to be understood, teach her the signs for a few basic commands so she can get her message across more easily. Three simple ones to start with:
Help: Make a fist with your right hand and gently pound the open, sky-facing palm of your left hand.
More: Touch the closed fingertips of both hands together.
Milk: Mimic the motion of milking a cow with one hand.
Validate His Feelings (But Not His Actions)
The next time your child goes to hit you, grab his hands and say, "I know you're upset and it's okay to be mad, but it's not okay to hit." You want him to know that his feelings are normal, says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City, but that there are other ways to handle those strong emotions.
Don’t Try To Reason With A Toddler
Avoid asking your tot, "How would you feel if someone bit you?" Toddlers don't have the mental or emotional maturity to feel empathy, says Klein. Stick with logical consequences -- if he hits someone on the playground, you go home; if he bites trying to avoid sharing his favorite toy, he loses the toy -- to make the point more clear.
Read Relevant Books
Children's books that address the issue of aggression are great, so that the "it's not okay to hit" message doesn't always come from you. Check out Teeth Are Not for Biting, Hands Are Not for Hitting, No Hitting! A Lift-The-Flap Book, and When I Feel Angry.
Learn Your Child’s Triggers
If your child always resorts to violence when, say, kids are crowding him at the playground or when his sister jumps on his bed, try your best to prepare him in advance for these situations (or avoid those scenarios if possible). If being hungry or tired makes him lose it, be sure to end playdates or leave the park before he reaches his tipping point.
Try a Chew Tube
These pliable plastic little gadgets are great for kids with sensory integration issues who seek oral input (which is a fancy way of saying they want to mouth and bite everything). Your child can carry a chew tube with him in his pocket and clamp down on it whenever he has an urge to bite. For a toddler, keep the tube in your pocket and hand it to her whenever you see her about to chow down on someone's arm.
Keep Everyone Safe
If your child is really hurting himself or another child and is having trouble calming down, sit with your legs criss-cross and hold your child in your lap facing away from you (so he does not bite or hurt you), recommends Fran Walfish, M.D., a child psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. Stay calm and tell him, "When you stop pulling on Mommy, Mommy will let go." The moment you feel his body relax, let go and praise him by saying, "You calmed yourself down.”
Use “Do’s” Instead Of “Don’t’s”
It's hard for kids to listen to instructions involving NOT doing something, says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents' Attention Without Hitting Your Sister. So instead of telling your 3-or-older child what not to do -- "Don't hit!" -- give them something they can do instead: "When you feel like hitting or pushing, cross your arms and give yourself a little squeeze, so no one gets hurt." Practice doing this while your child is calm, so your child is prepared to cope in a difficult situation.
Praise the Peace
Remember to congratulate your child whenever she’s not acting aggressively. If she’s playing peacefully with a pal, for example, say “Great sharing, guys!” If she asks you for help figuring out a toy instead of throwing it across the room in frustration, say “Thank you for using your words. Excellent job!”
Teach Him To Breathe Deeply
Arm your child with a few calm-down techniques. Tell her, “I get frustrated, too. And when I do, I sit down and take five long, deep breaths.” Show her a yoga move or a stretch that will take her out of the heat of the moment and relax her body. Kids as young as three can enjoy a simple tension-relieving yoga move like the child’s pose: On the floor, tuck your knees under your belly, place your forehead on the floor and stretch your arms out behind you at your sides.
Explore What’s Behind The Anger
If your child is older than 4 years, Fran Walfish, M.D., a child psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent says it may be helpful to consult a child therapist who can study the source of his youngster's anger. “It may be a new baby in the family, divorce, a conflict with a parent, a bully at school, the sudden departure of a beloved nanny, or a dozen other possible reasons.” Ask your pediatrician for a referral.
Be A Good Role Model
As hard it is to keep your cool when your kid is acting out, controlling your temper is key to teaching your child how to react to frustrating situations. If he sees you screaming, yelling, or roughly grabbing his arm when you lose your patience, he learns that acting out is the thing to do when you are upset. And by spanking or hitting back (to let him know how it feels), you’re only reinforcing the message that it’s okay to use your hands to resolve a situation.
Don’t Force Her To Say Sorry
“Forcing a child to apologize makes it disingenuous, and probably makes them mad, too,” says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City. Kids learn to apologize by being apologized to, not by being forced, she contends. “If you make a mistake or are too harsh, tell your daughter that you’re sorry. That’s how she’ll learn to say it herself.”
It takes time for this behavior to change, says Klein, so don’t expect overnight results. You have to set the limits over and over again before they sink in. Take the advice we give to our kids: Breathe deep, don’t give up, and keep working at it.
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