Once my little Z turned one she seemed to hit a new stage of being where she started biting, hitting and throwing tantrums. As I mentioned in this post on Teaching a Toddler Patience, a lot of these misbehaviors are fueled by the experience of new emotions, combined with a newly found frustration over starting to figure out the world, but not being able to get what they want and not being able to communicate properly. There is also the likelihood of pain from teething to blame, too, and you can read about some of the things that helped us with teething here. If you’d like to ease some of the frustrations you’re both feeling from a lack of verbal communication, I highly recommend reading this post on using baby sign language.
When it comes to socializing with friends and playgroups, this hurtful way of acting can be a tough thing to see your child do. It’s hard to remember sometimes that these little beings are so new and need a lot of guidance, and that what they do to figure the world out isn’t a reflection of them being either “good” or “bad”. It doesn’t mean you’re a crappy parent when your child behaves in a way you don’t want them to. It’s okay.
So what else can you do about all this biting and hitting when it’s directed at another child?
If a child is doing something that hurts another child, they probably are not fully understanding what they’re doing, and don’t mean to hurt the child (even if they are looking for a reaction). To address this kind of behaviour at this age, I would get down onto the child’s level by sitting or crouching, and calmly but empathetically point out the other child’s face.
To connect with and learn about emotions, I try to label get the child who hit to notice what the other child’s face is doing and label the feelings they may be experiencing. For instance, “Oh no! Look at Jacob’s face. He’s crying. He must be hurt. Jacob doesn’t like to be bitten. Bites hurt.”
It might be helpful once the other child has calmed down to gently ask your little one if they’d like to “give a hug” or “go say sorry” or whatever thoughtful gesture you feel would be appropriate. If they do, help them make the connection by going with the child if they seem hesitant or unsure of what they were going to do. (Last time my little one went off to give a hurt friend a hug, she got confused on the way and ended up hugging the wrong child. Oh well, it was the thought that counted.)
Using this way of responding to your child’s behavior helps children learn empathy and get a sense for emotions, and that what they do can cause others emotions to change, in both negative and positive ways.
If you liked this post and found it helpful, you might also like to read Raising a Respectful Child.