Previously, in Turn Around Your Toddler’s Tantrums, tips were given on making your life with toddlers run more smoothly. Since then, I have noticed more and more parents of toddlers in forums I participate in online asking about what to do when their toddler bites, hits or kicks. These extreme behaviors are more common then you might think. Don’t beat yourself up over it!
I still cannot stress enough the importance of consistency in a toddler’s life. Knowing what to expect helps a toddler in an ever-changing world. However, that will not stop all undesirable behaviors. I have seen parents trying different types of “discipline” for dealing with aggressiveness in toddlers, and tried some myself. I’d like to share what I’ve found to work best in my house—reteaching.
Reteaching is exactly what the name implies—practicing the correct behavior until the incorrect behavior stops. This may sound daunting. Some parents might think it’s easier just to put their toddler in time out. But when a toddler goes to time out, they haven’t learned a behavior to replace the incorrect one. It’s important we teach our children what those expectations are.
How do you reteach a toddler? I will share a couple examples that have happened in my house.
1. Christopher began hitting me one day. I was so upset! Where did he learn this? I certainly never hit my children! As soon as this behavior started, I taught him the sign for “gentle” and started taking his hands, doing gentle touches with me. Every time he would start to hit, I would get a very serious look on my face and say, “You may never hit. You must be gentle. Show me gentle.” Then he would have to practice being gentle.
2. All of the sudden, Christopher decided that he should throw books—big, heavy books. Every time he threw a book, I gave it back to him and made him hand it to me the right way, telling him, “Hand books nicely. Try again.” After he handed it back to me correctly, I would hand him a ball and say, “We can throw balls.” He quickly grew tired of practicing handing me books and throwing the balls. It only took one evening of retraining to stop that behavior!
3. Christopher got a reaction out of me when he bit me once. This made him want to do it again. Biting is a hard habit to retrain. When he bit me, I immediately told him, “No biting mommy.” Then I handed him a teether or washcloth to bite. Many time, toddlers bite when they are teething, but don’t use teethers the same way infants do.
The Keys to Retraining:
- Make it directly relate to the behavior.
- Be short; don’t retrain for 10 minutes. Once they do the desirable behavior, move on until the next time it happens.
- Retrain immediately.
- You may have to retrain five time, or you may have to retrain 50 times—don’t give up!