When you witness your child act aggressively toward a friend or sibling, it’s extremely difficult to respond like a rational human being.
Your blood is boiling and you can’t seem to wrap your head around the fact that your precious little cupcake just took a giant bite out of poor Jacob’s arm for no good reason!
After the initial shock and frustration wears off, the worry starts to set in.
What if I can’t get this under control?
Is my child going to have anger issues?
Am I going to get a permanent parking spot in front of the principal’s office when he gets older?
No wonder parents don’t get any sleep!
In this post, I will be addressing a reader question about how to handle a 16-month-old hitting and biting her twin brother.
The method given in my response aligns with the Positive Discipline approach. Learn more about that here.
My daughter (a twin) who is 16 months is going through a phase where she’s hitting and biting when she doesn’t get her way. Mostly with her brother. I feel like she’s at an age where she understands hitting vs patting the couch but as soon as she gets a stern no for hitting she will turn a little and pat the next thing she sees (whether that be my leg or the couch) as if she’s just testing, but I feel so redundant with my firm “no”s and don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. I just started time out for biting but not sure it’s effective after the one incident or not.
The word “no”, especially a firm/angry one, is definitely a trigger for toddlers. When I “lose my calm” and give a firm no, my son does the exact same thing! This is my reminder that I need to calm down myself so I can get him to a calm state.
Is she talking yet? If so, she can learn to “use her words” instead of engaging in hitting and biting. This will take a while and a lot of consistency to learn but will definitely be worth it. Also, you’ll want to remain calm/unruffled so she sees that her behaviors can’t rattle you and she can trust you to handle her behavior with confidence. This is way easier said than done!
So let’s say she wants a toy that your son has and hits him because she can’t play with it, try calmly saying “I won’t let you hit your brother.” and either remove her from the situation or hold her hands so she can’t do it again. Sit with her until she calms down. Throw in a reflecting statement like “You are so upset because your brother won’t let you play with the blocks.”
I wouldn’t do time-outs just because she’s not really learning a replacement behavior that way. It’s just extra time that she can amp up her anger or think about how mommy is mean and doesn’t understand her. She just wants to feel understood- it’s hard to not get what you want (for any of us).
Model and practice with her what she CAN do or say when she doesn’t get her way. She is still really young to truly understand the concept though, so for now, it will be more about staying consistent with your response of removing her from the situation or holding her hands.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT…
There are so many possible reasons behind a child exhibiting aggressive behaviors such as hitting, biting, or kicking. Before you pick any one strategy to use for your discipline, it is important to figure out that root cause.
You’ll also need to make sure that you take into consideration the age of the child as that will greatly impact your decision as well. For instance, a child under 2.5 years old doesn’t fully grasp the concept of cause and effect yet. This means that consequences will not be effective in teaching your child the intended concept. They are just not cognitively there yet.
For a young child like the one in this post, we need to look at communication skills.
The reader shared that her daughter hits and bites her brother when she doesn’t get her way. She also mentioned that when told “no”, her daughter continues to test by immediately hitting/patting something around her.
This tells me 3 things…
- She doesn’t know how to communicate her frustrations verbally.
- She is lacking in impulse control (along with every other 16 month old on the planet).
- She feels controlled/powerless when she hears the word “no”.
All three of those things need to be actively worked on in order for her to build up the necessary skills to handle those kinds of situations in the future.
The most important thing you can do is be a good model.
Model the appropriate way to handle frustrations (try introducing a Time-In to work on regulation skills) and model the words you want her to use instead of the physical behaviors.
Make your expectations clear that it’s okay to feel angry but it’s not okay to hurt someone (thanks Daniel Tiger)!
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