The time will come for every parent: your child will try to solve all of their insatisfactions by biting, kicking or slapping things and/or people. Before you get mad or upset because they hit you or acted aggressively towards someone else, it’s important to note that there’s nothing personal about it. In fact, without fully understanding how language works, this is the most practical and efficient way your baby has found to vent their frustrations, anger, anguish and negative emotions. It’s the impulse, which they channel through body language. That being said, it should be reprimanded in the first demonstration of aggression.
This phase begins around the one and a half to two year mark. Because their language skills aren’t fully developed yet, the child has a hard time explaining what they want. And they will, naturally, turn to their bodies, especially their mouth, which has been their primary mode of communicating their wants and needs this whole time – by crying, giggling, babbling, discovering new things (which they shove inside their mouths). It’s normal that this phase goes on until they turn three, depending on how far along the child is with learning how to speak and how the parents react to bites and slaps.
What a phase! This little thing called selfishness…
Besides having a hard time making themselves heard through their oral language, there’s another factor that makes the bites and kicking so common at this age: it’s the phase of egocentrism and selfishness. Your child seems to think the whole world revolves around them, they can get very jealous and protective of the things they deem as theirs and is becoming more and more independent and finding out they cannot have everything they want. It’s part of every child’s development.
Of course it’s heart wrenching to pick up your child from daycare and find out they were bitten by another child simply because they didn’t want to share their toys. Or, even more embarrassing is knowing that another child was assaulted by yours. But, the rule of thumb is to breath in deeply, keep your cool and try not to point fingers or figure out the culprits, embarrassing your child in front of all the other children and their parents. If your child was bitten or someone else hit them, ask the school to talk to the other child’s parents. If it happened the other way around, tell the school you will talk to your child at home.
What to do to prevent aggressive behavior?
We know it’s hard to keep calm in certain situations, especially because a bite or a slap often times are linked to another issue: the child is crying, yelling, saying “no” and even throwing themselves on the floor. It’s truly very complicated to break this cycle. But yelling, threatening or losing your cool will only make the situation worse, since the child will see it as acceptable behavior since their parents do the same.
Don’t pay attention to onlookers who might be judging you. Also, don’t feel pressured to appease others and reprimand your child if you don’t feel it is warranted. This, in fact, will only make things worse: your child will only become more upset with the public scolding and will take longer to calm down. In the same vein as that, try to avoid laughing at their tantrum: it can lead them into thinking that what they did was funny and will do it again or feel humiliated.
Focus, count to ten, if needed and take your child to a separate environment where they can calm down. When they’re a little more at ease, get down to their height, look deep into their eyes and try to get them to tell you what is upsetting them, if possible.
Focus on positive discipline
Make them feel heard and understood: explain that you understand their anger, but that this isn’t acceptable behavior. Tell them it hurts, it’s painful, that it upsets the other person and that it’s not okay…But avoid saying: “What a bad boy/girl.” The focus should be on reprimanding the wrong action, not on placing a label on the child. And, help them figure out other ways to express themselves and to be heard that doesn’t involve biting – suggest words and phrases they can use when they don’t like something.
During this phase, it’s not worth it to ask the child to put themselves in other people’s places, as they are still unable to have that kind of empathy. But, clearly show them the rules and how they work and make them apologize. Even if it isn’t a sincere request, it’ll make it easier for the child to assimilate when they did not act correctly. Be direct when orienting them and repeat as many times as necessary. Don’t forget to cheer them on when they act in a non-aggressive manner, as the child needs to establish these parameters and certainly will make an effort to make their parents happy. And, of course, if you’re unable to deal with this phase, seek professional help.