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Is your child hitting or biting other kids?

It may not be as big a problem as you think. In fact, a phase of hitting during early childhood is normal, Rebecca Shoaf, a physician with Pediatric Associates in Greer and mother of five, said.

The way parents deal with the problem should be age appropriate, she said. For example, parental action should differ for a young toddler experimenting with physical behavior and for an older preschooler who is acting in anger, Shoaf said.

“Most often, a hitting or biting behavior will need to be immediately followed by a calm, but firm, ‘no hitting’ or ‘no biting’ and removing the child from the situation,” Shoaf said.

An angry preschooler needs further teaching, such as rehearsing more acceptable ways to deal with their frustration, Shoaf said.

“Keep a calm, cool and authoritative attitude, “Shoaf said. “We, as parents, need to portray ourselves as loving, confident authorities.”

Overreacting parents can encourage the behavior, and children experiment with whether they will get the same reaction, Shoaf said.

Kelly Pfeiffer is founder of Think It Through Parenting, a Greenville-based firm that offers parenting workshops in the Upstate.

“We all know that children, or adults for that matter, are not able to control and regulate their own behavior one hundred percent of the time,” she said.

Pfeiffer, who has 16 years of experience as a parenting coach, said a good strategy for addressing most misbehaviors is to teach a child a good skill to replace the bad one.

“One reason children hit is because it’s the only way they know to solve a problem,” she said.

Teaching conflict resolution skills helps, Pfeiffer said, but learning such skills takes time and practice. Examples include asking to play with a toy, calming themselves when they feel angry and walking away if someone is calling them names, she said.

“Children are also going to make mistakes along the way, so parents shouldn’t expect immediate results,” Pfeiffer said.

Hitting, Pfeiffer said, is age-appropriate until age 4, with a developmental shift at age 5.

Why do kids bite?

Biting is a common problem among toddlers to 2-year-olds, said Kelly Pfeiffer, founder of Think It Through Parenting, a Greenville-based firm that offers parenting workshops in the Upstate.

“Children at this age have few resources for peaceful conflict resolution,” Pfeiffer said. “They have limited verbal skills, very little impulse control and are still in an oral stage of exploring the world through their mouths.”

How to deal with biting 

Try curbing toddler biting behaviors with these suggestions from Kelly Pfeiffer, training coordinator for the South Carolina Center for Child Care Career Development.

  • Monitor children closely when playing together
  • Pick up the child at early signs of stress or conflict
  • Schedule play dates when a child is well-rested, not immediately before nap time.
  • Note stressors that may contribute to negative behaviors. “Children get stressed when they are tired, hungry, teething, in a loud or overstimulating environment, and when they haven’t had enough physical contact, such as cuddling and hugging,” Pfeiffer said.
  • Offer teething toys and crunchy snacks frequently. “This helps relieve oral tension in the jaw for the child,” Pfeiffer said. “Many adults eat or chew gum to relieve stress.”

Find things to do with kids at www.upstateparent.com

Upstate moms and dads: Looking for things to do with kids in Greenville or Spartanburg? You’ll find lots of ideas at www.upstateparent.com.

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