First of all, relax. If you want to know how to stop hitting, biting, kicking, etc. you’re on the right track.
Second of all, it’s highly likely your precious little one WILL stop hitting, biting, kicking and throwing soon. As a very wise school counselor once pointed out to me, “How many adults do you know that hit and bite?” So, yes, there will be an end to this.
Third, know you’re not alone. All experts seem to agree that hitting and biting are common in young children. Although it can be tiring and frustrating to deal with, it is relatively normal.
But…there’s always a but…
What will also happen is that your child will learn other coping mechanisms for dealing with big feelings. One big factor that will help your child leave these behaviors behind is improvement in their ability to communicate. Language is often a point of frustration for little ones who can’t say what they feel or what they want. As language skills improve, so does behavior.
It’s also likely that your child will adopt a coping mechanism learned from you or other influential adults in their life. Some common coping mechanisms for big feelings such as anger, fear and frustration include:
- Bottling it up (which can often result in a tummy-ache, stress, headaches, etc.)
- Aggressive behaviors such as yelling
- Positive outlets for feelings such as taking deep breathes, exercising, etc.
I think most people would opt for teaching their child positive outlets for anger, fear and frustration, but maybe you’re not sure how to do this. Luckily, teaching these techniques goes hand in hand with eliminating hitting, biting, kicking and throwing things.
Now, let’s discuss those techniques for teaching your little one how to stop hitting and handle strong feelings:
First, you need to keep yourself safe. Call on your inner ninja and fend off your little one so that it’s impossible for them to hit you. Catch their hand, hold onto their forehead and keep them at a distance as lovingly as possible. While you’re doing this, you can say things like “My safety is important to me, and I won’t let you hurt me or anyone else.”
If your little one does manage to get you with a bite, hit or kick, say something like “Ouch! That hurt me. I feel sad/angry that you hurt me.” Then if necessary, model one of the techniques you’re teaching your child…more on that below.
Try to help your child identify what’s going on by noticing how they’re feeling. This is very matter of fact.
“You seem very angry”
“It looks like you’re frustrated that your friend isn’t ready to share with you”
“I can see you’re angry that it’s time to leave”
“I can see you’re afraid in this new situation”
This is also a door for your child to walk through with their big feelings. Your observation may open a floodgate of tears, more aggression or even giggles as they try to wriggle out of your hold.
Turn it Into Play
Sometimes, not always, you can use the moment of fending off your little one and turn it into play. Hand in Hand Parenting calls this “play listening” and it’s one of the best and most successful techniques I’ve ever found.
Basically, this technique means you exaggerate a reaction, if they’re pushing you, completely fall over and go back at them playfully. If they’re hitting, grab their hitting hand and swat back gently, making a funny face. You could also say “Hey! I’m gonna get you” with a playful, inviting voice.
This is magic.
Sometimes it turns that situation right around and you can have a happy fight so to speak of rough and tumble tussling. This often turns into laughter which helps release the tension your child is experiencing because of the big feelings they have.
Wait it Out
It’s not always possible to turn an upset into play. Your child may be too angry, too sad, too frustrated or just too plain worn out to play. Continue to keep yourself safe and allow your child to cry if they choose to.
It’s normal for your child to feel stand offish for a bit. Let them have it out. At this point, all you can do is let them know you’re ready for a hug or a talk once they’ve calmed down.
As soon as you can, reconnect with your child. Read a book. Have a giggle. Do something you both enjoy. Sing a song. It can be quick, but reconnecting is key for your relationship. In the first place, their upset may have been a cry for attention. Feeding your relationship is important.
Teach Techniques and Strategies
Later, much later, take the chance to start introducing some coping strategies to your little one. For me, “playing” angry is a game and a teaching tool. With little Peanut, we pretend to be angry. We make faces. We snarl. We growl. And then I introduce a technique and we practice it.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Take a deep breath.
- Hit a pillow.
- Stomp feet. Say “I’m this angry!” stomp stomp stomp.
- Throw sticks – not at anyone!
- Hit a drum.
- Sit in a peaceful space and light a candle.
Then, slowly and surely with a gentle reminder, you can ask your little one to use a technique during an upset. Suggest, “Do you want to go hit a pillow together?” Or “Wouldn’t it feel good to take a deep breath?”
With consistency and time you will make progress and notice your little one grow and change. This plan of action will help you as you’ll no longer wonder how to stop hitting, biting and kicking, but have clear, practical strategies.
I’d love to hear how this works for you and if you have other strategies for how to stop hitting, biting, kicking and throwing. Leave me a note in the comments!