Before I had children I’d see little kids who bit other kids or bullied or pushed or…whatever. And, like most people, my thinking was something along the lines of “Oh what a bad mother. She must not spend time with that child.” Or “His parents must not discipline him at all.” Or something similar.
My son and I spent a great deal of time together since I was a single stay at home mom. I comforted his fears, soothed away worries, showered him with love and understanding, played games, took advantage of “teaching moments”…and then he turned three and started biting everyone in sight.
I was mortified. I was horrified. Suddenly, on one innocent trip to the playground one sunny summer day my kid became one of those kids and I was the horrible parent. I grabbed my son’s hand while yelling at him “No! No!” and apologizing to the bitee’s parent, “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. I have ice on the bench over there. Do you want ice? I’m so sorry” while the parent glared and me and removed the innocent victim. Probably to go home or to the ER or to post my son’s and my picture at the Y “Beware…do not engage in play.”
In the heat of the moment I yelled at my son. I paddled him once on the Pull-Up. I told him we do NOT bite people. Ever. And later, when things were calm and we were back to normal I reminded him of the time he was hurt and asked him if he liked it. He said no. I said “We don’t want to make other people hurt, do we?” He said no. I thought, lesson learned.
Then it happened again. At church. At preschool. At a playdate. At home. I couldn’t blame it on one particular thing because it happened in different circumstances. The result was always the same, though. I was mortified. I yelled. I apologized. I reminded him how his feelings got hurt and that he didn’t like it and didn’t want other kids to feel that way. But it happened again and again.
Aggressive toddler behaviors happen generally between the ages of one and three for various reasons. Usually to vent frustration or show affection. After all, babies explore their world with their mouths. We’ve all seen internet pictures of younger children “kissing” a parent. The mom or dad is puckering and the youngster is mid-wide mouthed chomp. It’s cute, right?
Until they have all their teeth. Until they’re old enough to have feelings they don’t understand — frustration ensues.
I’ve written about my daughter Abigail not speaking and how I taught her signs so she wouldn’t get frustrated by not being able to let us know what she wanted. It’s the same principle.
The “Terrible Two’s” are “terrible” for parents because that is when your child experiences emotions…but doesn’t posses the vocabulary to express himself. He feels torn between independence (“I do it myself!”) and wanting mom or dad to help him or hold him just like they always have. He wants to explore! and be free! but doesn’t understand cause and effect. Like why standing on his wagon full of blocks to reach something up high is a bad idea. Then he’s upset when things don’t go the way he hoped they would. If only he’d been able to ask for a cookie.
So what’s a parent to do?
Don’t bite back to “show him” how it feels. Being told not to bite while someone is biting you is confusing. Don’t laugh! Even if he’s playing and isn’t biting hard. Don’t give him the idea that biting is “cute.” Don’t pretend to bite him when you’re playing. No nibbling those cute little baby toes! And…provide snacks. Sometimes he’s biting because he’s hungry and wants to put SOMETHING in his mouth.
Also, try and stay cool. Some children will do things for attention. Any kind of attention. Stay calm and talk to him firmly. Also watch what comes up in play. Having action figures who hit one another or anything like that can be one step away from it happening in real life.
Make sure violence isn’t sneaking into his world. Keep an eye on what he’s seeing. What movies are you and your husband watching that he’s seeing (even if he isn’t sitting with you watching it)? What video games is his older sibling playing? Sometimes preventing your toddler from becoming aggressive is only a matter of keeping his world violence free. And, if your child has seemed to always be aggressive cutting out the violence should help curb his behavior.
Offering ways to use his energy constructively might help as well. Is he yelling at you? Suggest you both roar like lions instead of yelling. Is he trying to kick the dog? Grab the soccer ball and head outside. And, as with any other facet of parenting…be the person you want your child to become. When he sees you get upset but handle it gracefully he will learn by your example.
Most of all, don’t stop loving him. He’s one of the greatest blessings in your life. You know that, I know that. Make sure he knows that.
About the Author: Elisa Ashley
Elisa writes a personal blog (ElisaAshley.wordpress.com) in return for Ho-ho's and Banana Colada Fuze, ghostwrites for her daughter Abigail at The Abby Gales (www.abbyrory.blogspot.com) and also played the part of Ginger on Whisk-ers In Kitchens (www.whiskersinkitchens.wordpress.com). She is currently a full-time mom, part-time student, and part-time photographer. She resides reluctantly in Alabama with her invisible friends and itchy shutter release finger.