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How to learn about children using hitting affectionately

How to learn about children using hitting affectionately

When I am about to leave, my youngest son will show affection by hugging me before I leave. When we are playing a game and he is really enjoying it, he will actually smile at me and hit me really quickly maybe 5 times a row. Sometimes this coincides snuggling his head into my body.

Initially I thought he was being angry or acting out, it has become clear that he only does it a happy face while we are doing something fun. (And not in an "I am overwhelmed" kind of way. Lately I respond by returning a hug instead of giving him a surprised or irritated face, and he likes that).

Anyway, when I try to google to understand this, keywords such as "affectionate hitting" simply return thousands of "anti-parent hitting children sites". Is there an term for when children do this so I can find more helpful thoughts/discussion about this?


The search term "children hitting for fun" seems to yield the results you may want although the results seem to come from sites such as mumsnet.

An aspect to this phenomenon is that this behaviour may lead to bullying behaviour later on in life if the right responses are not given when this occurs. The child needs to learn the cause and effect of hitting.

Typing the same term in Google Scholar gives research articles on dealing with bullying.


Infants Learn to Walk by Learning to Fall

When a baby starts to fall, our natural instincts tell us to protect them and quickly catch them. In general, parents’ instincts are to catch their children before they “fall” in many aspects in life. But, as with many things that require you to fail before you can succeed, infants need to learn to fall before they can learn how to walk. Researchers at New York University directed by Dr. Karen Adolph have conducted research just recently published in Psychological Science that demonstrates this important pattern of learning (Adolph et al., 2012).

Adolph and her colleagues set out to try to answer the fundamental question: why do experienced crawlers walk? If an infant is an excellent crawler and can get around perfectly well from a stable four-prong position, why then would the infant take a risk to start locomoting by using such an unstable, risky, and unknown method such as walking? This is actually a familiar pattern with many developments through infancy and childhood- many times, children will adopt new strategies for executing something that is initially more difficult than their current strategy. As of now, there is no unified theory about why children might be motivated to make these changes.

Videos of 12-14 month old novice walkers and crawlers playing with caregivers were collected and analyzed to try to uncover more information about the way children learn to walk beyond what is artificially measured by unnatural laboratory “tasks”. Researchers analyzed the video by taking note of how much time they spent crawling or walking, how much they were falling, and the distance that they traveled. The results showed that, overall, novice walkers fell more per hour than expert crawlers.

Importantly, however, the walkers actually moved more and spent more time moving than the crawlers. So, when this was taken into account, the difference in the amount of falls normalized by distance traveled for crawlers compared to walkers disappears. Both crawlers and walkers fall after traveling about the same distance, about the same amount of time, and after about the same amount of steps. Looking at just the walkers, more experience walking was highly correlated with better walking overall they took more steps, traveled further, and fell less frequently than walkers with very little experience.

So why do infants move from crawling to walking? At least the start of the answer is that crawling is no better than novice walking. Crawlers fell just as often as novice walkers (when amount of travel and time traveled is equated between walkers and crawlers). Additionally, walkers could move more than crawlers could. So, if you are falling about the same amount (proportionally) but you can do much more by walking it seems like walking is just a better way to get around.

Another interesting characteristic of infant’s natural walking habits is that they seem to have periods of walking coupled with longer periods of rest and immobilization. That is, they seem to have interleaved rather than massed practice of their walking. We know that in general, interleaved practice is better for long-term learning because it allows time for consolidation, reflection and renewed motivation. It also allows for broader transfer in learning because of the probability that the different practice sessions will be in varied contexts and usually require different movements or constraints. This has been shown in several other domains of learning such as in category induction and memory studies.

In all, though it seems like infants who start to walk are falling more often, it is really not any more risky than crawling when you take into account the amount and distance of travel being done by walking compared to crawling. Thus, infants learn to walk with accompanying increases in falls but not overall increases in falling rates. So, its not a bad thing if the baby falls, it is just a normal progression from crawling to walking. And, as novice walkers become more experienced, their falling rate declines.

Walking is accompanied by more frequent falling, but as they learn the ins and outs of walking and falling, babies will fall less. If your baby has the need for speed and likes to explore, let him or her fall and walk and his or her sense of adventure will be fulfilled.

To read the original article published in Psychological Science, please click here.

To find out more information about Dr. Karen Adolph and other research that her team has done on infant locomotion please click here.


Developmental Issues

There are a few key developmental issues that help guide research and theory development. The first issue would be the nature/nurture question.

Nature refers to anything biological in nature, such as genetics. Nurture refers to environmental factors, such as family, friends, and schools. Traditionally, this issue was viewed in terms of how much of some characteristic (e.g., personality) was due to nature and how much was due to nurture. However, we now know that such a viewpoint is far too simplistic. Instead, any developmental outcome is due to the collaboration among nature, nurture, and personal agency.

Another developmental issue is the question of sensitive periods of development. Said another way, is there a certain age range where if a child does not acquire a skill or process, it becomes too late? In this course, we will learn about two areas where there is, indeed, a sensitive period: Language acquisition and attachment.

A third developmental issue is focused upon whether development occurs continuously or in stages. If you think about prenatal development, development is occurring every day, from conception to birth. However, when we study prenatal development, you will find that it is divided into three stages, with each stage ending due to an event or major milestone. Some topics that we will study in here will look at development as continuous, while others will be examined as occurring in stages. (1)


Growing teeth and hands often find their way into trouble. Toddlers often bite and hit with little regard for the consequences of their actions. Biting and hitting habits hurt and should be corrected, before serious harm is done to bodies and to relationships.

1. Understand the reason behind biting and hitting

Babies bite and hit. Don’t take it personally. Babies do bite the hands (and the nipples) that feed them. Everything babies do revolves around their hands and mouth. The hands and teeth are their first social tools, and they learn how to use them from the responses they get. As soon as teeth erupt and hands flap, babies experiment and use these instruments on different objects to see how it feels. What could be more familiar and available than parents’ skin? Baby’s job is to use these tools your job is to teach him how. These early nips and slaps, as awful as they look and feel, are playful communications, not aggressive, disrespectful conduct.

Aggressive biting and hitting is most common between the ages of 18-months and 2½ years when the child doesn’t have the verbal language to communicate his needs. Instead, he communicates through actions. Biting usually stops as the child’s verbal skills grow but hitting doesn’t.

Toddlers bite and hit. What are simply socially- incorrect gestures in infants can if unchecked, become aggressive behaviors in children. That’s why you want to purge these from baby’s repertoire before they become part of the growing child. Children become aggressive in order to release pent-up anger, to control a situation, to show power, or to protect their turf in a toy squabble. Some children even resort to obnoxious behavior in a desperate attempt to break through to distant parents.

Most aggressive toddler behaviors will lessen once the child is old enough to communicate by words instead of actions.

2. Learn sources that trigger biting and hitting

Know what triggers aggressive behaviors. Keep a journal (at least mental notes) identifying the correlation between how a child acts and the circumstances prompting the action. For example: “Kate bit Suzie during playgroup. Suzie had Kate’s favorite ball. It was almost nap time. Lots of kids in a small place. Suzie is very bossy.”

3. Provide alternatives

Face-slapping is socially-incorrect gesture babies experiment with. Redirect the slapper into a socially-acceptable alternative: “Give me five.” Likewise, redirect nipping: “No biting, ouchie, hurts Mama! (put on your unhappy face) then redirect the behavior: “Hug mama. That’s nice!” (smile and hug back). Once your child’s face-slapping becomes an expression of frustration (for example, the toddler in your arms becomes angry and hits you because you won’t let her have candy), you’ll have to show her the natural consequence. Firmly but calmly announce “You may not hit” and put her down. She’ll still be angry about the candy, so you can verbalize that for her.

Do not allow your toddler to use you as a punching bag. Give her the message that you will not let her hurt you. If you don’t allow your child to hurt you when he’s very young, he will be less likely to let others hurt him when he’s older. You will be modeling to him how to say “no” to being hit, for example, by holding up a hand to stop the blow but not hit back. If your one-and-a-half-year-old bangs his toy hammer on the heads of other babies in the group, remove all objects that he can hit with. Show and tell him not to hit and give him an alternative gesture: “Be nice, pat baby” as you gently guide his patting hand.

4. Don’t bite back

“But the child needs to learn that biting hurts,” you may reason. Yes, but there’s no way your child will decide that she shouldn’t bite if you bite. Try this alternative tooth-for-tooth method: Take your child aside and ask her to let you show her how teeth feel on the skin. Press your child’s forearm against her upper teeth as if she were biting herself, not in an angry revengeful way, but as a parent making a point, “See, biting hurts!” Give this lesson immediately after he bites you or someone else. You want your child to learn to be sensitive to how others feel – an early lesson in empathy.

5. Don’t present confusing and conflicting messages

Katie hits Tommy. Katie’s mother (embarrassed and irritated) quickly goes over and smacks Katie on the arm saying “Mustn’t hit.” Are you as confused as Katie is right now? Have you ever been driven by embarrassment or anger to do something illogical? We all have. So plan in your mind ahead of time what you will do when your child hits someone.

6. Encourage empathy

You notice one child hits (pushes or kicks) another to get a toy. Show and tell an alternative way to get the toy. “We don’t hit other people. If you want the toy, wait until your friend is finished with it or ask Mommy and I’ll set the share timer. When I want something from you I don’t hit you, I ask you nicely.” If the hitter doesn’t cooperate, ask the victim to say, “I’m not playing with you anymore until you say you’re sorry and stop hitting.” Two-year-olds may not be able to say all these words, but they’ll understand them so you say the words for them and follow through with the consequence. Also, impress upon the biter: “How would you feel if Tommy bit you.”

7. Use time-outs to calm the situation

“Biting hurts, and it’s wrong to hurt. You are going to sit by me.” Usually, by two years of age, the child can make the connection between being aggressive and the consequences. Encourage your child to say “I’m sorry.” If he’s not angry anymore, he might want to give a kiss or hug.

8. Model nonaggression

A child who lives with aggression becomes aggressive. How do you communicate disappointment, handle conflicts, and get your point across? Aggression is contagious. Toddlers and young children also pick up aggressive behavior from older siblings. If the younger children see the older ones hitting each other, they conclude that’s the way you treat other people. Make this a teachable experience for the older children. Point out their modeling and tell them for their own benefit and the benefit of the little ones to clean up their act.

Grabbing is a common aggressive behavior in toddlers and young preschoolers. (Watch that you don’t unintentionally model this by snatching things from little hands) Calmly explain why he can’t have the item he grabbed and ask him to hand it back to the other child or give it to you. You may have to offer a replacement for what he has to give up. If your child is about to damage something valuable or is likely to hurt himself with an object, use a no-nonsense voice and show by your body language you expect him to give it up immediately.

9. Avoid setups that may result in biting and hitting

Avoid situations that bring out the worst in kids. At a birthday party, a mother set up a scavenger hunt for a bunch of boys — inside her house, of all places. To fuel the frenzy, she offered a prize for the winner. You can imagine what happened. Both the house and the children were a wreck. They hit and shoved each other and trashed the house in pursuit of the hidden treasures. Bruised skin and bruised feelings resulted.

10. Encourage gentle play

Watch the toddler who habitually bangs toys, bashes dolls, kicks cats, and pounds on walls. While some of this acting out is normal, it can be a red flag for tension and anger. The child is at risk of treating humans this way. Besides delving into the roots of the problem, encourage more gentle play: “Hug the bear,” “Pet the kitty,” “Love the doll.”

11. Reward positive behavior

Children over three respond well to rewards, such as a no-hitting chart: “Every day you are nice to your friends, put a happy face on the chart. When you have three happy faces we’ll go out to lunch together.”

12. Program self-control

Some impulsive children hit before they think. For children over three, help them control these impulses by suggesting substitute behaviors that the child clicks into at the first thought of hitting: “As soon as you feel like hitting, grab a pillow and pound on it or go run around the yard.” You can model impulse control for your child. For example, next time you feel like hitting, let your child see you think your way out of it. Grab your hand and talk to it: “Now, hand, you should not hit people.” He’ll pay attention, especially if he’s the one you felt like hitting.

13. Apply double discipline

When hitting becomes disrespectful and undermines your authority, it deserves a double-dose of correction from Mom and Dad. Four-year-old Timmy got angry and hit his mother. She immediately sat him down, looked him squarely in the eyes, and impressed on him that under no circumstances was he ever to hit his parents that behavior was intolerable and would be firmly corrected. She sent him to his room. After this time-out, they talked about his anger. Later that day she shared this incident with her husband who had a talk with Timmy. He reinforced the seriousness of this situation and told Timmy that it would not be tolerated: “I will not allow you to hit the woman I love.” This wise father got some extra mileage out of his discipline by communicating his feelings for his wife.

14. Supervise actively to minimize biting and hitting

It’s neither fair nor safe to allow aggressive toddlers to play with potential victims in close quarters without a parent on watch. If your child is aggressive, share your concern with the other parents or teachers in the playgroup, and seek their help in tempering your child’s aggressive behavior. Don’t hesitate to tell them about the problem. You can bet they have also struggled through an aggressive stage with their own children. Your candidness shows your concern for the other children. Otherwise, aggression, especially biting, may destroy friendships. The parents of a biter are embarrassed, while the parents of the bite are angry that their child has been hurt. The biter’s parents get blamed for the child’s misbehavior (“bad parents of a bad kid”), and the adult friendship cools.

Teachers and day-care providers also need to be vigilant in supervising the aggressive child, lest this attitude infect the whole group. In a group setting children learn what is socially acceptable behavior. If they see and feel that aggressive behavior is tolerated — especially if the biter is in the spotlight (“Watch out, he’s a biter”) — they pick up on this label and may try making it part of their repertoire. While the aggressor’s behavior requires immediate attention, be careful not to give the other children the idea that this is the way to get attention. Be sure to find opportunities to praise the other children for their good behavior.


Handling Hitting, Kicking, Biting and Hair Pulling – A Parents Guide

Children resort to aggressive behaviors because of a lack of wisdom and self-control. It is not a sign that a child is hateful or mean. Kids are human beings and human beings will get angry, we can’t prevent that. What we can do is teach our children how to handle their frustration and anger in appropriate ways. If your child uses these physical acts to express her feelings, use some of the following tips to change her behavior.

Intercede before it happens Watch your child during playtime. When you see her becoming frustrated or angry – intervene. Coach her through the issue. Teach her what to do, or model what to say to her friend. Or if she seems too upset to learn, redirect her attention to another activity until her emotions level out.

Teach and explain It’s one thing to tell a child what not to do or to step into an argument and solve it yourself. It’s another thing entirely to teach her what to do in advance of the next problem. This can be done through role-play, discussion, and reading a few children’s books about angry emotions.

Examine hidden causes Is your child hungry, tired, sick, jealous, frustrated, bored or scared? If you can identify any feelings driving your child’s actions you can address those along with the aggressive behavior.

Give more attention to the injured party Often the child who hits gets so much attention that the action becomes a way of gaining the spotlight. Instead, give more attention to the child who was hurt. After a brief statement, “No hitting!” turn and give attention to the child who was wronged, “Come here and Mommy will give you a hug and read you a book.”

Teach positive physical touches Show your child how to hold hands during a walk or how to give a back rub or foot massage. Teach a few physical games, like tag or cat’s cradle. Under direct supervision, children who are more physical can gain a positive outlet for their physical energy.

Teach the clapping method Tell a child to clap his hands whenever he feels an urge to hit. This gives him an immediate outlet for his emotions and helps him learn to keep his hands to himself. An alternate is to teach him to put his hands in his pockets when he feels like hitting. Reward with praise anytime you see he’s successful.

Give your child a time out To use Time Out when a child acts out aggressively, immediately and gently take the child by the shoulders, look him in the eye and say, “No hurting others, time out.” Guide the child to a chair and tell him, “You may get up when you can play without hitting.” By telling him that he can get up when he’s ready, you let him know that he is responsible for controlling his own behavior. If the child gets up and hits again, say, “You are not ready to get up yet,” and direct him back to time out.

Avoid play hitting and wrestling Young children who roughhouse with a parent or sibling during play time might then use these same actions during non-wrestling times. It can be hard for them to draw the line between the two. If you have a child who has trouble controlling his physical acts then avoid this kind of play.

Don’t lose control When you see your child hurting another child it’s easy to get angry. This won’t teach your child what she needs to learn: how to control her emotions when others are making her mad. You are mad at her, so she’ll be watching how you handle your anger.

Don’t let your child watch violent TV Children can become immune to the impact of violence, and they may copy what they see depicted on television. Avoid viewing shows that portray aggression as an appropriate way of handling anger.

Don’t assume your child can figure it out If your child comes to you about a difficult situation, don’t send him away for tattling. But don’t step in and handle it for him, either. View his call for help as an invitation to teach him important social skills.

Don’t focus on punishment More than anything your child needs instructions on how to treat other human beings, particularly during moments of anger or frustration.


Protecting our children from abuse and neglect

Children depend on many adults as they grow up. Parents, relatives, teachers and child care workers all provide children with love, support and guidance.

No one wants to see children grow up with fear, anger or neglect. But no one is born knowing how to care for children. Sometimes we make mistakes that hurt them.

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a relative or a caregiver, you can make a difference and help the children you love grow up in a caring, loving environment. Adults don't have to be perfect, just willing to listen, learn, grow and change.

Carlos came home from work in a foul mood. Seven-year-old Miguel ran out of the kitchen just as his father walked in, and they ran into each other. Carlos cursed and grabbed his son. He shook Miguel hard while yelling at him, and then shoved him out of the way. The next day, Miguel's arms and back had bruises.

It takes a lot to care for a child. A child needs food, clothing and shelter as well as love and attention. Parents and caregivers want to provide all those things, but they have other pressures, too. Sometimes adults just can't provide everything their children need.

Adults may not intend to hurt the children they care for. But sometimes adults lose control, and sometimes they hurt children.

Adults may hurt children because they:

Lose their tempers when they think about their own problems.

Don't know how to discipline a child.

Expect behavior that is unrealistic for a child's age or ability.

Have been abused by a parent or a partner.

Lose control when they use alcohol or other drugs.

This is an example of physical child abuse.

Teresa had just changed 18-month-old Dale's dirty diaper when he had another messy diaper this made Teresa angry. She thought that putting him in hot water would punish him for the dirty diaper. When she put him in the tub, he cried loudly. Teresa slapped him to stop the crying and didn't notice the scald marks until after the bath was over.

Examples of Physical Child Abuse

Beating with a belt, shoe or other object.

Burning a child with matches or cigarettes.

Scalding a child with water that is too hot.

Pulling a child's hair out.

Breaking a child's arm, leg, or other bones.

Not letting a child eat, drink or use the bathroom.

This is an example of sexual child abuse.

Nine-year-old Susan's mother works at night. Her stepfather James is around when she goes to bed, so many evenings James lies down beside Susan. As she goes to sleep, he rubs her breasts and genital area.

Examples of Sexual Child Abuse

Fondling a child's genitals.

Having intercourse with a child.

Having oral sex with a child.

Having sex in front of a child.

Having a child touch an older person's genitals.

Using a child in pornography.

Showing X-rated books or movies to a child.

This is an example of neglect.

John worked nights at the grocery store, but the family needed more money. Ellen looked for work, but the only job she could find required her to leave home at 3 a.m. The children, ages two and six, were alone for a few hours until John got home.

Examples of Child Neglect

Not meeting a child's need for food, clothing, shelter or safety.

Leaving a child unwatched.

Leaving a child in an unsafe place.

Not seeking necessary medical attention for a child.

Not having a child attend school.

Parents and caretakers don't always know that they are being abusive or neglectful. Few adults actually intend to hurt or neglect children.

Sometimes a caretaker just doesn't know a better way to discipline a child. Sometimes an adult is just too frustrated with life and takes it out on a child.

An adult is more likely to abuse or neglect a child:

If the caretaker was abused as a child.

If the caretaker is being abused by a spouse or partner.

If the caretaker uses alcohol or other drugs.

If the adult expects too much of a child.

If the child is the result of an unplanned pregnancy.

Some adults don't know how to correct a child without causing physical harm. An adult who has this problem can learn new ways to discipline without hurting a child.

Look for times when the child is behaving well. Praise that behavior.

Agree on a code word to use when things reach the boiling point. The code word signals that everyone needs some time to cool down before talking about the problem.

When a child misbehaves, give the child a "time-out", a few minutes alone to think about what happened.

Talk to the child about the misbehavior and its effects.

Sometimes, parents and caretakers need to learn to control their own anger. They need to identify the things that make them more likely to hurt the children in their care.

Caretakers who abuse or neglect a child might be:

Worried about not having enough money.

Having problems with spouses or partners.

Coping with a family member's illness or death.

Acting the way their parents acted.

Stressed from their jobs or other problems.

Expecting unrealistic behavior for example, thinking a five-year-old can handle the same tasks as a nine-year-old, and do them as well.

Often people who abuse or neglect children experience more than one of these situations at the same time.

Hurting a child or not filling a child's basic needs never makes things better. No matter what the problem, help is available.

Brenda's teacher saw signs of neglect.

In the preschool class, four-year-old Brenda always seemed tired. Brenda never brought food for snack time, and she looked hungrily at other children's sandwiches. Her classmates teased her because her hair was always dirty.

Paul saw signs of physical child abuse.

Paul lived next door to the Harris family, where someone always seemed to be yelling or crying. One night Paul heard glass break, then a man's shouting and a loud thump. Ten-year-old Keisha ran out the door a few seconds later, crying. Her face was swollen with the start of a black eye.

The effects of child abuse can last a lifetime. An abused or neglected child needs help right away. Is a child you know being abused or neglected?

Warning Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Broken bones or internal injuries.

Constant hunger or thirst.

Lack of interest in surroundings.

Dirty hair or skin, frequent diaper rash.

Pain, bruising, or bleeding in the genitals.

More knowledge about sex than is normal for the child's age.

Hard-to-believe stories about how accidents occurred.

Abuse and neglect have harmful effects on children. At worst, a child could die. More often, abused or neglected children live with fear or pain.

Abused or neglected children often experience:

Fear of certain adults or places.

The effects don't end when the abuse or neglect stops. When abused or neglected children grow up, they are more likely to:

Use violence to solve their problems.

Have emotional difficulties.

Use alcohol or other drugs.

Abuse and neglect are hard on the whole family. Some families need help in dealing with practical problems — for example, getting help to buy groceries or learning how to discipline a child without resorting to violence. In other cases, a child protection agency might move abused or neglected children away from their parents to a safe, temporary home. If abuse or neglect is severe, or if it continues, the children can be permanently moved away from their parents into a safe situation.

Sometimes, people are afraid to report abuse or neglect because they don't want to break up a family. Sometimes, people are afraid to get involved in someone else's problem.

When you report suspected child abuse or neglect, you could be saving that child's life

The goal of stopping abuse and neglect is to keep children safe. Part of keeping children safe is finding help for the adults who have hurt them. Adults who have abused or neglected a child have many places to turn for help.

The child's doctor can explain children's needs at every age. He or she can recommend places to learn more about parenting and child care.

Local health and social service departments often have parenting classes. Social service workers also can help parents get assistance to ease their financial situations.

Hospitals and community centers often have classes on stress reduction, parenting, discipline, and nutrition.

Psychologists, counselors, and social workers can help parents and caregivers deal with problems like drug use, anger and previous experiences of abuse.

Religious groups often provide food, counseling, and other types of support for anyone in the community — not just their members.

If you see that a relative, neighbor or friend is under a lot of stress and might hurt children in their care, suggest that the person get help from one of these services. Stop the problem before it starts.

What should I do if I suspect a child is being hurt?

Report your suspicion to a local, county or state child protection agency. Call a crisis hotline or find the agency number in the blue government pages of a telephone directory.

Who must report abuse?

In every state, the following people are required by law to report suspected abuse:


How to stop preschoolers (3 to 5) from hitting

With this set, you should continue to teach them to understand their feelings and express them verbally, but you now want to help them think through situations, empathize with their playmate, and control their emotions before they act. Once your kid has calmed down, you can take them through scenarios of how they could have reacted.

The more your kid has to choose from when they’re, say, in the middle of a heated battle over whether to play Star Wars or Mega Bloks, the better their ability to problem solve will be.

Robson and her husband use this technique with Sebastian. “When he hits, we talk about other ways to get what he needs, like saying ‘I need space.’” And when you see them making non-aggressive choices, Cherland also recommends giving them a compliment like “I saw you let Noah choose which game to play,” to reinforce positive behaviour.

But ongoing hitting could be a sign of more serious neurological issues. That seems to be the story with seven-year-old Zoe,* who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) just before she turned five. Her parents, Jessica and Matt Brandson,* have tried everything they could think of to stop Zoe from using physical aggression, but she continues to hit her four-year-old sister, Charlotte*. “If Charlotte crosses her, she hits first and asks questions later,” says Jessica. “She sees it as retaliation and thinks it’s justified if Charlotte has wronged her.”

Jessica has taken parenting courses, read countless books, and the family even had a counsellor come to their home once a week for six months, and that’s when they learned a few magic words.

When Zoe hits, her parents say: “You hit, you sit!” and she has to go sit on the stairs for seven minutes (one minute for every year of her age). Jessica says it works because it sends a clear message to Zoe that there’s a predictable, non-negotiable consequence.

And all our experts agree that if parents hit their kids, it’s very difficult for kids to learn not to hit in a moment of conflict. “A lot of what we call ‘physical punishment’ is retaliation,” Durrant says. “And we don’t want to teach our children to retaliate. We want to teach them to stand up for themselves.”


How to Respond When Your Child Hits You

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

Getting hit by your child can be frustrating, embarrassing, and infuriating. For some parents, it brings about a sense of shame and desperation. Many parents worry that their child's aggression toward them is a sign that they've somehow failed as a parent. But most kids hit at one time or another. The way you respond to your child's hitting is the key to nipping it in the bud.


Can You Discipline Your Child Without Using Punishment?

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series we will explore the reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

By Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP (Yale University)

When we talk about discipline, we usually refer to the efforts by parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate annoying or inappropriate child behaviors. Punishment is designed to suppress or reduce behavior and may appear like the perfect match for these goals. The term “discipline” includes the notions of instruction but also of punishment.

From the standpoint of psychological science, there is another way to consider the topic of discipline that sidesteps a sole focus on punishment. This approach begins with what we are trying to accomplish – eliminating inappropriate child behaviors and teaching habits and values. This perspective keeps the same goals, but very much opens up the possible means of achieving these goals without the use of punishment.

Punishment in Brief

As a general rule, punishment is not a very effective way of changing behavior, at least in the usual way it is administered. By punishment, I refer to negative consequences after certain behavior (e.g., gentle reprimand, lecture, shouting, or hitting) or removing some positive consequence (e.g., placing the child in time out or away from desirable events, taking away a privilege).

As an aside, gentle, rational, and measured reasoning with a child (e.g., “We do not do that [behavior] in this house,” “What if your sister ruined your toys?” or “You, just violated a Kantian imperative”) are wonderful to teach reasoning and to model parent reasonableness under fire but not very effective as behavior-change techniques.

There are three major concerns relevant to the use of punishment.

1. Punishment even at its best, does not develop the positive behavior the parents wish.

That is, it does not teach the child what to do, but may momentarily suppress the undesired behavior. You can reprimand the child all day for not (choose one: doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, cleaning up her room) but that will not teach her to do homework, to practice, or to clean up. Developing behavior does not come from merely suppressing unwanted behaviors.

2. Punishment often has negative side effects

These effects include trying to escape from or avoid the situation or person associated with punishment, emotional effects (e.g., crying, being upset), and engaging in aggressive behavior. None of the side effects relates to the effectiveness of punishment (e.g., the more upset the child is not any indication of the effectiveness of punishment in suppressing behavior). Actually, side effects “come on” or occur even with very ineffective punishment.

3. The punishment trap can lock in punishment in parent and teacher behavior.

That trap refers to the fact that punishment often stops the behavior immediately — perhaps through startle or interruption. These immediate effects (stopping of the aversive child behavior) help lock in the parent’s behavior (through negative reinforcement). By “locking in” I mean it increases the likelihood that the parent will punish in the future. In fact, the rate of the child’s misbehavior is not changed or improved, but those delayed effects do not override the impact of immediate cessation of behavior.

To be clear, punishing your child’s behavior can have multiple goals. For example, parents often want to teach a lesson, provide a just penalty to match the child’s crime, to be a responsible or “good parent”, or to follow cultural or religious practices. These goals can be distinguished from changing child behavior.

The goals do not necessarily clash, i.e., eliminating some behavior, but the means really do. For example, when your child carelessly destroys the family dollhouse that was built by his or her great-great-great (keep adding “greats”) grandfather from Pangaea, the supercontinent, you may want to convey the gravity of the act and punish accordingly. At this point, a psychologist armed with “evidence-based” punishment might well say, “the science supports use of just a couple minutes of time out or brief loss of a privilege (e.g., computer, videos, bicycle) for a day.” The psychologist is speaking to behavior change but not the many goals that you, as a parent, hope to achieve.

So, How to Eliminate Behavior without Punishment

There is no evidence that punishment is really needed to achieve parent goals or to discipline children. That is a stark statement and saying that it has a strong research base is no consolation.

Here is what we know. There are ways of eliminating behavior that involve directly developing and reinforcing behaviors that are opposite to or incompatible with the behavior one wants to eliminate. The non-technical term is reinforcing positive opposites. This is based on many technical procedures (several differential reinforcement schedules) that have been well studied in human and nonhuman animal research (see references). Essentially, the key point is developing the behavior one wishes rather than focusing on what to eliminate.

Consider the table below in which the goals are to change behaviors (left column). A parent or teacher might endlessly make threats, reprimand, lecture, and take privileges away for any one of those. Yet, these interventions are extremely unlikely to work at all. A more effective strategy is to develop the behaviors one wants, i.e., developing the positive opposite (right column).

I say “reinforcing” the opposite behavior, but this is not merely administering praise or throwing rewards at the behavior. Changing behavior focuses on antecedents (what comes before the behavior), the behavior (crafting approximations of what you wish), and consequences (usually praise delivered in a special way). This requires some knowledge about how to craft and develop the behavior, but concrete guidelines are readily available (see the references).

The examples in the table are behaviors in everyday life but at the clinic where I work, we use positive opposites with children referred for aggressive and violent behaviors.

What you want to get rid of . . . Positive opposite…
Siblings fighting over a TV show (or use of a computer game) Sitting and watching TV together nicely (or taking turns with game), without shouting or hitting
Child throwing his clothes all over the floor in his bedroom Placing them in his dresser or closet
Child not doing her homework Sitting quietly at her desk and doing school work for 30 minutes
Child getting out of bed again and again for a drink of water to stretch out bed time Going to bed, getting up no more than once for a drink or bathroom, and remaining in her room
Child arguing and shouting at me whenever I say no to something Expressing anger calmly

Where Does Punishment Fit in All of This?

The first point to make is that punishment is invariably the secondary part of any behavior-change effort when trying to “discipline.” That means we begin by identifying the behavior we wish to take the place of the one we want to eliminate. We now focus on developing that behavior through the use of antecedents and consequences and shaping. Once that primary focus is in place, mild punishment can be an effective adjunct.

Here are key tips for using punishment effectively:

1. Emphasize praise and attention for the positive opposite behaviors.

If you are using brief time out from reinforcement as the punishment, do not expect it to work at all unless you are praising the appropriate behavior you wish during periods when your child is not in time out.

2. If punishment is to be used, make it mild and brief.

Time out of a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes or thereabouts) or loss of privilege (e.g., for an evening or day or two) is as effective as what you might want to do (e.g., 1 hour of time out taking away the privilege of going out on dates until your child is 30 years old).

3. Explain to your child why he or she should or should not do something.

It is fine and indeed beneficial to do so. This models thinking, reasoning, and the appropriate style of handling a potentially volatile situation. Yet, it is not likely to impact the frequency of the inappropriate behavior. The familiar parental refrain, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times” makes perfect sense. That phrase is in keeping with what we know, namely, telling people to do something (e.g., stop smoking, eat more vegetables, ease up on the fast foods, add broccoli to your diet) does not mean they will do it. Providing information can help but, done in isolation, it is not a very reliable way to change behavior in most people most of the time.

4. Avoid physical punishment.

It is not more effective and, in fact, moderate to severe application increases the risk for all sorts of undesirable outcomes (e.g., aggressive and antisocial behavior, poor school performance, problems of physical health, damage to the immune system). The uses of physical punishment are influenced by scores of other factors, of course. And often the findings are not relevant to families or compete with what they have experienced (e.g., punishment trap is relevant here).

5. Model the behavior you wish to see in your child.

Modeling is an untapped influence in the home, i.e., showing exactly the behaviors you wish your child to learn. Children copy parents of course, but modeling is not used strategically by parents to teach the behaviors they wish in a systematic way.

6. Avoid cliché interventions.

Our media has popularized techniques like “tough love,” “three strikes (misbehaviors) and you are out,” or reasoning that is not really well based in childrearing research (e.g., slippery slope—if I let this go, my child will keep getting worse). These are not interventions that are effective as a general rule, and they actually can make achieving the desired behaviors much more difficult..

In summary, what do we know about changing the behavior of children (and others) in the context of discipline?

The decision regarding how to discipline children is influenced by many factors and is a privilege and responsibility that comes with parenting. From the standpoint of psychological science, however, the question is, “What are the most effective ways of changing behavior based on research?” Developing positive, prosocial behavior not only develops habits you wish to see, but can eliminate behaviors that interfere with your child’s adjustment and functioning.

If the usual methods are working for your child, i.e., he or she is doing well at home and at school, everyone is satisfied, and there are no risks of untoward side effects for the child, then perhaps you do not need to resort to methods I have highlighted. On the other hand, these methods can help ease parenting discipline challenges by achieving changes in your child’s behavior more effectively, more quickly, and more enduringly.

Research tells us that good habits, whether it is eating broccoli or flossing or developing positive opposites in relation to discipline, are not compatible with what many people wish to do or believe are advisable practices. For many parents, discipline means punishment and lessons need to be taught. That is understandable. However, the suggestions I offer are effective in changing behavior and perhaps can be adapted to your personal and cultural views of child-rearing.

Kazdin, A.E. (2013). Behavior modification in applied settings (7 th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kazdin, A.E., & Rotella, C. (2013). The everyday parenting toolkit: The Kazdin Method for easy, step-by-step lasting change for you and your child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. He was the 2008 President of the American Psychological Association and is the author of 49 books for professional-audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, interpersonal violence, and research methods. His work has been translated in several languages throughout the world.


Aggressive Behavior in Young Kids: How to Stop a Child From Hitting and Biting

As mortifying as these bad behaviors are, they’re also not uncommon at this developmental stage, and they also aren’t an indication of your parenting gone astray.

Hitting and biting doesn’t mean your child is a bully.

It also doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

Here’s what’s behind hitting, biting and aggressive behavior in young kids, especially toddlers.

UNDERSTANDING WHY KIDS HIT

Children between the age of 18 months and 3 years learn how to express their needs and big emotions with crying, shrieking and resorting to physical means such as hitting, biting, pushing and aggressive reactions.

At this age, they’ve eager to assert themselves, communicating what they like and don’t like, sometimes in inappropriate ways.

With limited self-control at this age and ability to regulate their behavior when it’s on the brink of turning aggressive, kids are more likely to “show” than “tell” what they’re thinking and feeling.

UNDERSTANDING WHY KIDS BITE

Ever since children were babies, they’ve used their mouths to explore their world.

Think back… how often did your babies put their hands in their mouths, toys, food, and anything they could get their hands on?

Babies turn into toddlers who lead with their mouths, whether that’s sucking their fingers or biting Mom’s arm.

Now, that’s not to say it’s OK for them to bite, but aside from coping behavior carried from when they were babies, biting can also inadvertently be normalized during playtime without you realizing it.

When you play bite or act out nibbling games at home, and sends toddlers a mixed message that these actions are OK with others too.

It’s best to avoid these playful games and scenarios with your toddler, at least until they’re past the age of leading with their teeth and can reason that this isn’t appropriate behavior.

WHAT CAN I DO WHEN MY CHILD IS HITING AND BITING OTHERS?

1. YOUR REACTION WILL DICTATE BEHAVIOR (BUT I CAN ALSO MAKE IT WORSE)

The way you react to a child’s lashing out is the key to nipping it in the bud.

Setting clear rules for appropriate behavior with consequences for breaking the rules every hit he or she hits or bites, will teach there’s no excusive for hurting another person.

Get down to eye level, look him in the eye, and say in a calm, yet stern voice, “No hitting. Hitting hurts” or “No biting. Biting hurts.”

Toddlers are constantly testing out behaviors to find the cause and effect, even if it’s inappropriate. It’s always best to intervene and curb aggressive behavior now, before it becomes a bigger problem.

Helpful Phrases to use with your child in a calm, but you-mean-business voice:

  • “No, that doesn’t feel good.”
  • “We don’t hurt our friends.”
  • “I can’t let you do that.”
  • “Biting hurts, we don’t want to hurt our friends.”

Teaching emotions using emotion picture cards also help children see the effect misbehavior has on others and their feelings.

2. SQUASH BEHAVIOR BEFORE IT HAPPENS

As the parent, you know the signs of when your child is getting ready to use aggressive behavior and can stop him before it intensifies.

Step in when you see your child getting worked up, or heading towards another child with the intention or hitting or biting.

Kid’s don’t know how to properly express themselves at this age, but when you step in, you can give them an opportunity to share their feelings with words in a peaceful way, and without resorting to using physical means.

3. CALL A TIME OUT

If you see your child acting aggressively – hitting, biting, smacking or spitting – you know it’s time to step in and stop the behavior immediately.

Put the child on a time-out (the rule of thumb is one minute of time out for each year old your child is) or send them to a calm down spot to cool off for a few minutes.

Pro Tip: We use these exact calm down cards at our home which gives kids the tools to chose a calm down method.

4. LOOK AT WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE CHILD’S WORLD

First, you need to pinpoint where the behavior happens most frequently.

At home? Grandma’s house? Daycare? With a babysitter or person, they’re in the care of or near?

What is the common denominator when it comes to frequency of aggressive behavior?

If hitting and/or biting only happens in one environment, or with one specific person, you need to zero-in on what’s triggering the behavior.

Common triggers for toddlers:

  • Taking toys instead of asking
  • Overtired
  • Overstimulated
  • Too Loud of Noise (sensitive to)
  • Hungry
  • Feeling out of control (surprises and not knowing what comes next in the day, makes kids feel out of control and leads down the road to power struggles and misbehavioras a way to cope with the feelings of being scared, fearful, unprepared, etc.

Analyze what leads up to the misbehavior as well by observing the environment factors such as being too tired, overstimulated, hungry, missing nap, it’s a transition period, or other stressors.

Emotion picture cards are a simple tool to help kids identify emotions and build emotional intelligence.

Keeping a daily routine for kids is important to managing behavior and making kids feel not only safe, but confident when they know what the day looks like and what comes next.

Try this tip to get kids to follow a routine…

Routine cards are a wonderful way to help kids remember what comes next, whether it’s for the morning, bedtime or an entire day.

My kids use these routine cards (the girls have these and my son uses these routine cards) which I had printed and laminated. Every day we put them in order for the day so they know what the schedule looks like as well as what age-appropriate chores they need to finish before dinner.

No nagging or reminding them of what comes next because all they have to do is look at their cards and move to the next part of the day.

5. STRESS AND FEARS ARE AGGRESSIVE TRIGGERS

“Not all children hit when they’re scared–it’s not the only instinctive human reaction to the feeling of fear. But it is one of our innate fear responses. So, whether your child smiles while he’s hitting, or looks impassive, or only hits when he’s clearly upset, you can safely assume that if your child is hitting, it’s because he’s feeling scared.”

Stress and fears are triggers which show up in kids who exhibit aggressive behavior.

It’s time to look at your environments to see if there are any big stress factors contributing to your child’s behavior, as well as triggers that make them afraid, scared, anxious, worried or fearful.

6. HE’S DEFENDING HIS TURF

Kids often become aggressive when they’re defending their belongings.

Toys and play spaces can be triggers for little ones who don’t have impulse control when it comes to sharing or another kid grabbing their toys without asking.

The easiest way to diffuse these situations is to distract other kids with another toy or game until your child is ready to relinquish a toy or two.

Ask your little one learns conflict resolution, sit back for a second to see if the kids can resolve the dispute on their own.

If they can’t, and it looks like it’s going to escalate, you know it’s time to step in.

7. STAY CALM

The best way to help a child, is NOT by matching his emotions with equal intensity.

To help your child calm down, speak calmly and stay in control.

Kids often think that any attention beats no attention at all. So, if you lose it with your child over their behavior, you feed the attention monster and trigger an alarm inside your child that when they want your attention (good or bad), all they must do is hit, bite, spit, etc.


Growing teeth and hands often find their way into trouble. Toddlers often bite and hit with little regard for the consequences of their actions. Biting and hitting habits hurt and should be corrected, before serious harm is done to bodies and to relationships.

1. Understand the reason behind biting and hitting

Babies bite and hit. Don’t take it personally. Babies do bite the hands (and the nipples) that feed them. Everything babies do revolves around their hands and mouth. The hands and teeth are their first social tools, and they learn how to use them from the responses they get. As soon as teeth erupt and hands flap, babies experiment and use these instruments on different objects to see how it feels. What could be more familiar and available than parents’ skin? Baby’s job is to use these tools your job is to teach him how. These early nips and slaps, as awful as they look and feel, are playful communications, not aggressive, disrespectful conduct.

Aggressive biting and hitting is most common between the ages of 18-months and 2½ years when the child doesn’t have the verbal language to communicate his needs. Instead, he communicates through actions. Biting usually stops as the child’s verbal skills grow but hitting doesn’t.

Toddlers bite and hit. What are simply socially- incorrect gestures in infants can if unchecked, become aggressive behaviors in children. That’s why you want to purge these from baby’s repertoire before they become part of the growing child. Children become aggressive in order to release pent-up anger, to control a situation, to show power, or to protect their turf in a toy squabble. Some children even resort to obnoxious behavior in a desperate attempt to break through to distant parents.

Most aggressive toddler behaviors will lessen once the child is old enough to communicate by words instead of actions.

2. Learn sources that trigger biting and hitting

Know what triggers aggressive behaviors. Keep a journal (at least mental notes) identifying the correlation between how a child acts and the circumstances prompting the action. For example: “Kate bit Suzie during playgroup. Suzie had Kate’s favorite ball. It was almost nap time. Lots of kids in a small place. Suzie is very bossy.”

3. Provide alternatives

Face-slapping is socially-incorrect gesture babies experiment with. Redirect the slapper into a socially-acceptable alternative: “Give me five.” Likewise, redirect nipping: “No biting, ouchie, hurts Mama! (put on your unhappy face) then redirect the behavior: “Hug mama. That’s nice!” (smile and hug back). Once your child’s face-slapping becomes an expression of frustration (for example, the toddler in your arms becomes angry and hits you because you won’t let her have candy), you’ll have to show her the natural consequence. Firmly but calmly announce “You may not hit” and put her down. She’ll still be angry about the candy, so you can verbalize that for her.

Do not allow your toddler to use you as a punching bag. Give her the message that you will not let her hurt you. If you don’t allow your child to hurt you when he’s very young, he will be less likely to let others hurt him when he’s older. You will be modeling to him how to say “no” to being hit, for example, by holding up a hand to stop the blow but not hit back. If your one-and-a-half-year-old bangs his toy hammer on the heads of other babies in the group, remove all objects that he can hit with. Show and tell him not to hit and give him an alternative gesture: “Be nice, pat baby” as you gently guide his patting hand.

4. Don’t bite back

“But the child needs to learn that biting hurts,” you may reason. Yes, but there’s no way your child will decide that she shouldn’t bite if you bite. Try this alternative tooth-for-tooth method: Take your child aside and ask her to let you show her how teeth feel on the skin. Press your child’s forearm against her upper teeth as if she were biting herself, not in an angry revengeful way, but as a parent making a point, “See, biting hurts!” Give this lesson immediately after he bites you or someone else. You want your child to learn to be sensitive to how others feel – an early lesson in empathy.

5. Don’t present confusing and conflicting messages

Katie hits Tommy. Katie’s mother (embarrassed and irritated) quickly goes over and smacks Katie on the arm saying “Mustn’t hit.” Are you as confused as Katie is right now? Have you ever been driven by embarrassment or anger to do something illogical? We all have. So plan in your mind ahead of time what you will do when your child hits someone.

6. Encourage empathy

You notice one child hits (pushes or kicks) another to get a toy. Show and tell an alternative way to get the toy. “We don’t hit other people. If you want the toy, wait until your friend is finished with it or ask Mommy and I’ll set the share timer. When I want something from you I don’t hit you, I ask you nicely.” If the hitter doesn’t cooperate, ask the victim to say, “I’m not playing with you anymore until you say you’re sorry and stop hitting.” Two-year-olds may not be able to say all these words, but they’ll understand them so you say the words for them and follow through with the consequence. Also, impress upon the biter: “How would you feel if Tommy bit you.”

7. Use time-outs to calm the situation

“Biting hurts, and it’s wrong to hurt. You are going to sit by me.” Usually, by two years of age, the child can make the connection between being aggressive and the consequences. Encourage your child to say “I’m sorry.” If he’s not angry anymore, he might want to give a kiss or hug.

8. Model nonaggression

A child who lives with aggression becomes aggressive. How do you communicate disappointment, handle conflicts, and get your point across? Aggression is contagious. Toddlers and young children also pick up aggressive behavior from older siblings. If the younger children see the older ones hitting each other, they conclude that’s the way you treat other people. Make this a teachable experience for the older children. Point out their modeling and tell them for their own benefit and the benefit of the little ones to clean up their act.

Grabbing is a common aggressive behavior in toddlers and young preschoolers. (Watch that you don’t unintentionally model this by snatching things from little hands) Calmly explain why he can’t have the item he grabbed and ask him to hand it back to the other child or give it to you. You may have to offer a replacement for what he has to give up. If your child is about to damage something valuable or is likely to hurt himself with an object, use a no-nonsense voice and show by your body language you expect him to give it up immediately.

9. Avoid setups that may result in biting and hitting

Avoid situations that bring out the worst in kids. At a birthday party, a mother set up a scavenger hunt for a bunch of boys — inside her house, of all places. To fuel the frenzy, she offered a prize for the winner. You can imagine what happened. Both the house and the children were a wreck. They hit and shoved each other and trashed the house in pursuit of the hidden treasures. Bruised skin and bruised feelings resulted.

10. Encourage gentle play

Watch the toddler who habitually bangs toys, bashes dolls, kicks cats, and pounds on walls. While some of this acting out is normal, it can be a red flag for tension and anger. The child is at risk of treating humans this way. Besides delving into the roots of the problem, encourage more gentle play: “Hug the bear,” “Pet the kitty,” “Love the doll.”

11. Reward positive behavior

Children over three respond well to rewards, such as a no-hitting chart: “Every day you are nice to your friends, put a happy face on the chart. When you have three happy faces we’ll go out to lunch together.”

12. Program self-control

Some impulsive children hit before they think. For children over three, help them control these impulses by suggesting substitute behaviors that the child clicks into at the first thought of hitting: “As soon as you feel like hitting, grab a pillow and pound on it or go run around the yard.” You can model impulse control for your child. For example, next time you feel like hitting, let your child see you think your way out of it. Grab your hand and talk to it: “Now, hand, you should not hit people.” He’ll pay attention, especially if he’s the one you felt like hitting.

13. Apply double discipline

When hitting becomes disrespectful and undermines your authority, it deserves a double-dose of correction from Mom and Dad. Four-year-old Timmy got angry and hit his mother. She immediately sat him down, looked him squarely in the eyes, and impressed on him that under no circumstances was he ever to hit his parents that behavior was intolerable and would be firmly corrected. She sent him to his room. After this time-out, they talked about his anger. Later that day she shared this incident with her husband who had a talk with Timmy. He reinforced the seriousness of this situation and told Timmy that it would not be tolerated: “I will not allow you to hit the woman I love.” This wise father got some extra mileage out of his discipline by communicating his feelings for his wife.

14. Supervise actively to minimize biting and hitting

It’s neither fair nor safe to allow aggressive toddlers to play with potential victims in close quarters without a parent on watch. If your child is aggressive, share your concern with the other parents or teachers in the playgroup, and seek their help in tempering your child’s aggressive behavior. Don’t hesitate to tell them about the problem. You can bet they have also struggled through an aggressive stage with their own children. Your candidness shows your concern for the other children. Otherwise, aggression, especially biting, may destroy friendships. The parents of a biter are embarrassed, while the parents of the bite are angry that their child has been hurt. The biter’s parents get blamed for the child’s misbehavior (“bad parents of a bad kid”), and the adult friendship cools.

Teachers and day-care providers also need to be vigilant in supervising the aggressive child, lest this attitude infect the whole group. In a group setting children learn what is socially acceptable behavior. If they see and feel that aggressive behavior is tolerated — especially if the biter is in the spotlight (“Watch out, he’s a biter”) — they pick up on this label and may try making it part of their repertoire. While the aggressor’s behavior requires immediate attention, be careful not to give the other children the idea that this is the way to get attention. Be sure to find opportunities to praise the other children for their good behavior.


Handling Hitting, Kicking, Biting and Hair Pulling – A Parents Guide

Children resort to aggressive behaviors because of a lack of wisdom and self-control. It is not a sign that a child is hateful or mean. Kids are human beings and human beings will get angry, we can’t prevent that. What we can do is teach our children how to handle their frustration and anger in appropriate ways. If your child uses these physical acts to express her feelings, use some of the following tips to change her behavior.

Intercede before it happens Watch your child during playtime. When you see her becoming frustrated or angry – intervene. Coach her through the issue. Teach her what to do, or model what to say to her friend. Or if she seems too upset to learn, redirect her attention to another activity until her emotions level out.

Teach and explain It’s one thing to tell a child what not to do or to step into an argument and solve it yourself. It’s another thing entirely to teach her what to do in advance of the next problem. This can be done through role-play, discussion, and reading a few children’s books about angry emotions.

Examine hidden causes Is your child hungry, tired, sick, jealous, frustrated, bored or scared? If you can identify any feelings driving your child’s actions you can address those along with the aggressive behavior.

Give more attention to the injured party Often the child who hits gets so much attention that the action becomes a way of gaining the spotlight. Instead, give more attention to the child who was hurt. After a brief statement, “No hitting!” turn and give attention to the child who was wronged, “Come here and Mommy will give you a hug and read you a book.”

Teach positive physical touches Show your child how to hold hands during a walk or how to give a back rub or foot massage. Teach a few physical games, like tag or cat’s cradle. Under direct supervision, children who are more physical can gain a positive outlet for their physical energy.

Teach the clapping method Tell a child to clap his hands whenever he feels an urge to hit. This gives him an immediate outlet for his emotions and helps him learn to keep his hands to himself. An alternate is to teach him to put his hands in his pockets when he feels like hitting. Reward with praise anytime you see he’s successful.

Give your child a time out To use Time Out when a child acts out aggressively, immediately and gently take the child by the shoulders, look him in the eye and say, “No hurting others, time out.” Guide the child to a chair and tell him, “You may get up when you can play without hitting.” By telling him that he can get up when he’s ready, you let him know that he is responsible for controlling his own behavior. If the child gets up and hits again, say, “You are not ready to get up yet,” and direct him back to time out.

Avoid play hitting and wrestling Young children who roughhouse with a parent or sibling during play time might then use these same actions during non-wrestling times. It can be hard for them to draw the line between the two. If you have a child who has trouble controlling his physical acts then avoid this kind of play.

Don’t lose control When you see your child hurting another child it’s easy to get angry. This won’t teach your child what she needs to learn: how to control her emotions when others are making her mad. You are mad at her, so she’ll be watching how you handle your anger.

Don’t let your child watch violent TV Children can become immune to the impact of violence, and they may copy what they see depicted on television. Avoid viewing shows that portray aggression as an appropriate way of handling anger.

Don’t assume your child can figure it out If your child comes to you about a difficult situation, don’t send him away for tattling. But don’t step in and handle it for him, either. View his call for help as an invitation to teach him important social skills.

Don’t focus on punishment More than anything your child needs instructions on how to treat other human beings, particularly during moments of anger or frustration.


Protecting our children from abuse and neglect

Children depend on many adults as they grow up. Parents, relatives, teachers and child care workers all provide children with love, support and guidance.

No one wants to see children grow up with fear, anger or neglect. But no one is born knowing how to care for children. Sometimes we make mistakes that hurt them.

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a relative or a caregiver, you can make a difference and help the children you love grow up in a caring, loving environment. Adults don't have to be perfect, just willing to listen, learn, grow and change.

Carlos came home from work in a foul mood. Seven-year-old Miguel ran out of the kitchen just as his father walked in, and they ran into each other. Carlos cursed and grabbed his son. He shook Miguel hard while yelling at him, and then shoved him out of the way. The next day, Miguel's arms and back had bruises.

It takes a lot to care for a child. A child needs food, clothing and shelter as well as love and attention. Parents and caregivers want to provide all those things, but they have other pressures, too. Sometimes adults just can't provide everything their children need.

Adults may not intend to hurt the children they care for. But sometimes adults lose control, and sometimes they hurt children.

Adults may hurt children because they:

Lose their tempers when they think about their own problems.

Don't know how to discipline a child.

Expect behavior that is unrealistic for a child's age or ability.

Have been abused by a parent or a partner.

Lose control when they use alcohol or other drugs.

This is an example of physical child abuse.

Teresa had just changed 18-month-old Dale's dirty diaper when he had another messy diaper this made Teresa angry. She thought that putting him in hot water would punish him for the dirty diaper. When she put him in the tub, he cried loudly. Teresa slapped him to stop the crying and didn't notice the scald marks until after the bath was over.

Examples of Physical Child Abuse

Beating with a belt, shoe or other object.

Burning a child with matches or cigarettes.

Scalding a child with water that is too hot.

Pulling a child's hair out.

Breaking a child's arm, leg, or other bones.

Not letting a child eat, drink or use the bathroom.

This is an example of sexual child abuse.

Nine-year-old Susan's mother works at night. Her stepfather James is around when she goes to bed, so many evenings James lies down beside Susan. As she goes to sleep, he rubs her breasts and genital area.

Examples of Sexual Child Abuse

Fondling a child's genitals.

Having intercourse with a child.

Having oral sex with a child.

Having sex in front of a child.

Having a child touch an older person's genitals.

Using a child in pornography.

Showing X-rated books or movies to a child.

This is an example of neglect.

John worked nights at the grocery store, but the family needed more money. Ellen looked for work, but the only job she could find required her to leave home at 3 a.m. The children, ages two and six, were alone for a few hours until John got home.

Examples of Child Neglect

Not meeting a child's need for food, clothing, shelter or safety.

Leaving a child unwatched.

Leaving a child in an unsafe place.

Not seeking necessary medical attention for a child.

Not having a child attend school.

Parents and caretakers don't always know that they are being abusive or neglectful. Few adults actually intend to hurt or neglect children.

Sometimes a caretaker just doesn't know a better way to discipline a child. Sometimes an adult is just too frustrated with life and takes it out on a child.

An adult is more likely to abuse or neglect a child:

If the caretaker was abused as a child.

If the caretaker is being abused by a spouse or partner.

If the caretaker uses alcohol or other drugs.

If the adult expects too much of a child.

If the child is the result of an unplanned pregnancy.

Some adults don't know how to correct a child without causing physical harm. An adult who has this problem can learn new ways to discipline without hurting a child.

Look for times when the child is behaving well. Praise that behavior.

Agree on a code word to use when things reach the boiling point. The code word signals that everyone needs some time to cool down before talking about the problem.

When a child misbehaves, give the child a "time-out", a few minutes alone to think about what happened.

Talk to the child about the misbehavior and its effects.

Sometimes, parents and caretakers need to learn to control their own anger. They need to identify the things that make them more likely to hurt the children in their care.

Caretakers who abuse or neglect a child might be:

Worried about not having enough money.

Having problems with spouses or partners.

Coping with a family member's illness or death.

Acting the way their parents acted.

Stressed from their jobs or other problems.

Expecting unrealistic behavior for example, thinking a five-year-old can handle the same tasks as a nine-year-old, and do them as well.

Often people who abuse or neglect children experience more than one of these situations at the same time.

Hurting a child or not filling a child's basic needs never makes things better. No matter what the problem, help is available.

Brenda's teacher saw signs of neglect.

In the preschool class, four-year-old Brenda always seemed tired. Brenda never brought food for snack time, and she looked hungrily at other children's sandwiches. Her classmates teased her because her hair was always dirty.

Paul saw signs of physical child abuse.

Paul lived next door to the Harris family, where someone always seemed to be yelling or crying. One night Paul heard glass break, then a man's shouting and a loud thump. Ten-year-old Keisha ran out the door a few seconds later, crying. Her face was swollen with the start of a black eye.

The effects of child abuse can last a lifetime. An abused or neglected child needs help right away. Is a child you know being abused or neglected?

Warning Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Broken bones or internal injuries.

Constant hunger or thirst.

Lack of interest in surroundings.

Dirty hair or skin, frequent diaper rash.

Pain, bruising, or bleeding in the genitals.

More knowledge about sex than is normal for the child's age.

Hard-to-believe stories about how accidents occurred.

Abuse and neglect have harmful effects on children. At worst, a child could die. More often, abused or neglected children live with fear or pain.

Abused or neglected children often experience:

Fear of certain adults or places.

The effects don't end when the abuse or neglect stops. When abused or neglected children grow up, they are more likely to:

Use violence to solve their problems.

Have emotional difficulties.

Use alcohol or other drugs.

Abuse and neglect are hard on the whole family. Some families need help in dealing with practical problems — for example, getting help to buy groceries or learning how to discipline a child without resorting to violence. In other cases, a child protection agency might move abused or neglected children away from their parents to a safe, temporary home. If abuse or neglect is severe, or if it continues, the children can be permanently moved away from their parents into a safe situation.

Sometimes, people are afraid to report abuse or neglect because they don't want to break up a family. Sometimes, people are afraid to get involved in someone else's problem.

When you report suspected child abuse or neglect, you could be saving that child's life

The goal of stopping abuse and neglect is to keep children safe. Part of keeping children safe is finding help for the adults who have hurt them. Adults who have abused or neglected a child have many places to turn for help.

The child's doctor can explain children's needs at every age. He or she can recommend places to learn more about parenting and child care.

Local health and social service departments often have parenting classes. Social service workers also can help parents get assistance to ease their financial situations.

Hospitals and community centers often have classes on stress reduction, parenting, discipline, and nutrition.

Psychologists, counselors, and social workers can help parents and caregivers deal with problems like drug use, anger and previous experiences of abuse.

Religious groups often provide food, counseling, and other types of support for anyone in the community — not just their members.

If you see that a relative, neighbor or friend is under a lot of stress and might hurt children in their care, suggest that the person get help from one of these services. Stop the problem before it starts.

What should I do if I suspect a child is being hurt?

Report your suspicion to a local, county or state child protection agency. Call a crisis hotline or find the agency number in the blue government pages of a telephone directory.

Who must report abuse?

In every state, the following people are required by law to report suspected abuse:


Aggressive Behavior in Young Kids: How to Stop a Child From Hitting and Biting

As mortifying as these bad behaviors are, they’re also not uncommon at this developmental stage, and they also aren’t an indication of your parenting gone astray.

Hitting and biting doesn’t mean your child is a bully.

It also doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

Here’s what’s behind hitting, biting and aggressive behavior in young kids, especially toddlers.

UNDERSTANDING WHY KIDS HIT

Children between the age of 18 months and 3 years learn how to express their needs and big emotions with crying, shrieking and resorting to physical means such as hitting, biting, pushing and aggressive reactions.

At this age, they’ve eager to assert themselves, communicating what they like and don’t like, sometimes in inappropriate ways.

With limited self-control at this age and ability to regulate their behavior when it’s on the brink of turning aggressive, kids are more likely to “show” than “tell” what they’re thinking and feeling.

UNDERSTANDING WHY KIDS BITE

Ever since children were babies, they’ve used their mouths to explore their world.

Think back… how often did your babies put their hands in their mouths, toys, food, and anything they could get their hands on?

Babies turn into toddlers who lead with their mouths, whether that’s sucking their fingers or biting Mom’s arm.

Now, that’s not to say it’s OK for them to bite, but aside from coping behavior carried from when they were babies, biting can also inadvertently be normalized during playtime without you realizing it.

When you play bite or act out nibbling games at home, and sends toddlers a mixed message that these actions are OK with others too.

It’s best to avoid these playful games and scenarios with your toddler, at least until they’re past the age of leading with their teeth and can reason that this isn’t appropriate behavior.

WHAT CAN I DO WHEN MY CHILD IS HITING AND BITING OTHERS?

1. YOUR REACTION WILL DICTATE BEHAVIOR (BUT I CAN ALSO MAKE IT WORSE)

The way you react to a child’s lashing out is the key to nipping it in the bud.

Setting clear rules for appropriate behavior with consequences for breaking the rules every hit he or she hits or bites, will teach there’s no excusive for hurting another person.

Get down to eye level, look him in the eye, and say in a calm, yet stern voice, “No hitting. Hitting hurts” or “No biting. Biting hurts.”

Toddlers are constantly testing out behaviors to find the cause and effect, even if it’s inappropriate. It’s always best to intervene and curb aggressive behavior now, before it becomes a bigger problem.

Helpful Phrases to use with your child in a calm, but you-mean-business voice:

  • “No, that doesn’t feel good.”
  • “We don’t hurt our friends.”
  • “I can’t let you do that.”
  • “Biting hurts, we don’t want to hurt our friends.”

Teaching emotions using emotion picture cards also help children see the effect misbehavior has on others and their feelings.

2. SQUASH BEHAVIOR BEFORE IT HAPPENS

As the parent, you know the signs of when your child is getting ready to use aggressive behavior and can stop him before it intensifies.

Step in when you see your child getting worked up, or heading towards another child with the intention or hitting or biting.

Kid’s don’t know how to properly express themselves at this age, but when you step in, you can give them an opportunity to share their feelings with words in a peaceful way, and without resorting to using physical means.

3. CALL A TIME OUT

If you see your child acting aggressively – hitting, biting, smacking or spitting – you know it’s time to step in and stop the behavior immediately.

Put the child on a time-out (the rule of thumb is one minute of time out for each year old your child is) or send them to a calm down spot to cool off for a few minutes.

Pro Tip: We use these exact calm down cards at our home which gives kids the tools to chose a calm down method.

4. LOOK AT WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE CHILD’S WORLD

First, you need to pinpoint where the behavior happens most frequently.

At home? Grandma’s house? Daycare? With a babysitter or person, they’re in the care of or near?

What is the common denominator when it comes to frequency of aggressive behavior?

If hitting and/or biting only happens in one environment, or with one specific person, you need to zero-in on what’s triggering the behavior.

Common triggers for toddlers:

  • Taking toys instead of asking
  • Overtired
  • Overstimulated
  • Too Loud of Noise (sensitive to)
  • Hungry
  • Feeling out of control (surprises and not knowing what comes next in the day, makes kids feel out of control and leads down the road to power struggles and misbehavioras a way to cope with the feelings of being scared, fearful, unprepared, etc.

Analyze what leads up to the misbehavior as well by observing the environment factors such as being too tired, overstimulated, hungry, missing nap, it’s a transition period, or other stressors.

Emotion picture cards are a simple tool to help kids identify emotions and build emotional intelligence.

Keeping a daily routine for kids is important to managing behavior and making kids feel not only safe, but confident when they know what the day looks like and what comes next.

Try this tip to get kids to follow a routine…

Routine cards are a wonderful way to help kids remember what comes next, whether it’s for the morning, bedtime or an entire day.

My kids use these routine cards (the girls have these and my son uses these routine cards) which I had printed and laminated. Every day we put them in order for the day so they know what the schedule looks like as well as what age-appropriate chores they need to finish before dinner.

No nagging or reminding them of what comes next because all they have to do is look at their cards and move to the next part of the day.

5. STRESS AND FEARS ARE AGGRESSIVE TRIGGERS

“Not all children hit when they’re scared–it’s not the only instinctive human reaction to the feeling of fear. But it is one of our innate fear responses. So, whether your child smiles while he’s hitting, or looks impassive, or only hits when he’s clearly upset, you can safely assume that if your child is hitting, it’s because he’s feeling scared.”

Stress and fears are triggers which show up in kids who exhibit aggressive behavior.

It’s time to look at your environments to see if there are any big stress factors contributing to your child’s behavior, as well as triggers that make them afraid, scared, anxious, worried or fearful.

6. HE’S DEFENDING HIS TURF

Kids often become aggressive when they’re defending their belongings.

Toys and play spaces can be triggers for little ones who don’t have impulse control when it comes to sharing or another kid grabbing their toys without asking.

The easiest way to diffuse these situations is to distract other kids with another toy or game until your child is ready to relinquish a toy or two.

Ask your little one learns conflict resolution, sit back for a second to see if the kids can resolve the dispute on their own.

If they can’t, and it looks like it’s going to escalate, you know it’s time to step in.

7. STAY CALM

The best way to help a child, is NOT by matching his emotions with equal intensity.

To help your child calm down, speak calmly and stay in control.

Kids often think that any attention beats no attention at all. So, if you lose it with your child over their behavior, you feed the attention monster and trigger an alarm inside your child that when they want your attention (good or bad), all they must do is hit, bite, spit, etc.


Can You Discipline Your Child Without Using Punishment?

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series we will explore the reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

By Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP (Yale University)

When we talk about discipline, we usually refer to the efforts by parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate annoying or inappropriate child behaviors. Punishment is designed to suppress or reduce behavior and may appear like the perfect match for these goals. The term “discipline” includes the notions of instruction but also of punishment.

From the standpoint of psychological science, there is another way to consider the topic of discipline that sidesteps a sole focus on punishment. This approach begins with what we are trying to accomplish – eliminating inappropriate child behaviors and teaching habits and values. This perspective keeps the same goals, but very much opens up the possible means of achieving these goals without the use of punishment.

Punishment in Brief

As a general rule, punishment is not a very effective way of changing behavior, at least in the usual way it is administered. By punishment, I refer to negative consequences after certain behavior (e.g., gentle reprimand, lecture, shouting, or hitting) or removing some positive consequence (e.g., placing the child in time out or away from desirable events, taking away a privilege).

As an aside, gentle, rational, and measured reasoning with a child (e.g., “We do not do that [behavior] in this house,” “What if your sister ruined your toys?” or “You, just violated a Kantian imperative”) are wonderful to teach reasoning and to model parent reasonableness under fire but not very effective as behavior-change techniques.

There are three major concerns relevant to the use of punishment.

1. Punishment even at its best, does not develop the positive behavior the parents wish.

That is, it does not teach the child what to do, but may momentarily suppress the undesired behavior. You can reprimand the child all day for not (choose one: doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, cleaning up her room) but that will not teach her to do homework, to practice, or to clean up. Developing behavior does not come from merely suppressing unwanted behaviors.

2. Punishment often has negative side effects

These effects include trying to escape from or avoid the situation or person associated with punishment, emotional effects (e.g., crying, being upset), and engaging in aggressive behavior. None of the side effects relates to the effectiveness of punishment (e.g., the more upset the child is not any indication of the effectiveness of punishment in suppressing behavior). Actually, side effects “come on” or occur even with very ineffective punishment.

3. The punishment trap can lock in punishment in parent and teacher behavior.

That trap refers to the fact that punishment often stops the behavior immediately — perhaps through startle or interruption. These immediate effects (stopping of the aversive child behavior) help lock in the parent’s behavior (through negative reinforcement). By “locking in” I mean it increases the likelihood that the parent will punish in the future. In fact, the rate of the child’s misbehavior is not changed or improved, but those delayed effects do not override the impact of immediate cessation of behavior.

To be clear, punishing your child’s behavior can have multiple goals. For example, parents often want to teach a lesson, provide a just penalty to match the child’s crime, to be a responsible or “good parent”, or to follow cultural or religious practices. These goals can be distinguished from changing child behavior.

The goals do not necessarily clash, i.e., eliminating some behavior, but the means really do. For example, when your child carelessly destroys the family dollhouse that was built by his or her great-great-great (keep adding “greats”) grandfather from Pangaea, the supercontinent, you may want to convey the gravity of the act and punish accordingly. At this point, a psychologist armed with “evidence-based” punishment might well say, “the science supports use of just a couple minutes of time out or brief loss of a privilege (e.g., computer, videos, bicycle) for a day.” The psychologist is speaking to behavior change but not the many goals that you, as a parent, hope to achieve.

So, How to Eliminate Behavior without Punishment

There is no evidence that punishment is really needed to achieve parent goals or to discipline children. That is a stark statement and saying that it has a strong research base is no consolation.

Here is what we know. There are ways of eliminating behavior that involve directly developing and reinforcing behaviors that are opposite to or incompatible with the behavior one wants to eliminate. The non-technical term is reinforcing positive opposites. This is based on many technical procedures (several differential reinforcement schedules) that have been well studied in human and nonhuman animal research (see references). Essentially, the key point is developing the behavior one wishes rather than focusing on what to eliminate.

Consider the table below in which the goals are to change behaviors (left column). A parent or teacher might endlessly make threats, reprimand, lecture, and take privileges away for any one of those. Yet, these interventions are extremely unlikely to work at all. A more effective strategy is to develop the behaviors one wants, i.e., developing the positive opposite (right column).

I say “reinforcing” the opposite behavior, but this is not merely administering praise or throwing rewards at the behavior. Changing behavior focuses on antecedents (what comes before the behavior), the behavior (crafting approximations of what you wish), and consequences (usually praise delivered in a special way). This requires some knowledge about how to craft and develop the behavior, but concrete guidelines are readily available (see the references).

The examples in the table are behaviors in everyday life but at the clinic where I work, we use positive opposites with children referred for aggressive and violent behaviors.

What you want to get rid of . . . Positive opposite…
Siblings fighting over a TV show (or use of a computer game) Sitting and watching TV together nicely (or taking turns with game), without shouting or hitting
Child throwing his clothes all over the floor in his bedroom Placing them in his dresser or closet
Child not doing her homework Sitting quietly at her desk and doing school work for 30 minutes
Child getting out of bed again and again for a drink of water to stretch out bed time Going to bed, getting up no more than once for a drink or bathroom, and remaining in her room
Child arguing and shouting at me whenever I say no to something Expressing anger calmly

Where Does Punishment Fit in All of This?

The first point to make is that punishment is invariably the secondary part of any behavior-change effort when trying to “discipline.” That means we begin by identifying the behavior we wish to take the place of the one we want to eliminate. We now focus on developing that behavior through the use of antecedents and consequences and shaping. Once that primary focus is in place, mild punishment can be an effective adjunct.

Here are key tips for using punishment effectively:

1. Emphasize praise and attention for the positive opposite behaviors.

If you are using brief time out from reinforcement as the punishment, do not expect it to work at all unless you are praising the appropriate behavior you wish during periods when your child is not in time out.

2. If punishment is to be used, make it mild and brief.

Time out of a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes or thereabouts) or loss of privilege (e.g., for an evening or day or two) is as effective as what you might want to do (e.g., 1 hour of time out taking away the privilege of going out on dates until your child is 30 years old).

3. Explain to your child why he or she should or should not do something.

It is fine and indeed beneficial to do so. This models thinking, reasoning, and the appropriate style of handling a potentially volatile situation. Yet, it is not likely to impact the frequency of the inappropriate behavior. The familiar parental refrain, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times” makes perfect sense. That phrase is in keeping with what we know, namely, telling people to do something (e.g., stop smoking, eat more vegetables, ease up on the fast foods, add broccoli to your diet) does not mean they will do it. Providing information can help but, done in isolation, it is not a very reliable way to change behavior in most people most of the time.

4. Avoid physical punishment.

It is not more effective and, in fact, moderate to severe application increases the risk for all sorts of undesirable outcomes (e.g., aggressive and antisocial behavior, poor school performance, problems of physical health, damage to the immune system). The uses of physical punishment are influenced by scores of other factors, of course. And often the findings are not relevant to families or compete with what they have experienced (e.g., punishment trap is relevant here).

5. Model the behavior you wish to see in your child.

Modeling is an untapped influence in the home, i.e., showing exactly the behaviors you wish your child to learn. Children copy parents of course, but modeling is not used strategically by parents to teach the behaviors they wish in a systematic way.

6. Avoid cliché interventions.

Our media has popularized techniques like “tough love,” “three strikes (misbehaviors) and you are out,” or reasoning that is not really well based in childrearing research (e.g., slippery slope—if I let this go, my child will keep getting worse). These are not interventions that are effective as a general rule, and they actually can make achieving the desired behaviors much more difficult..

In summary, what do we know about changing the behavior of children (and others) in the context of discipline?

The decision regarding how to discipline children is influenced by many factors and is a privilege and responsibility that comes with parenting. From the standpoint of psychological science, however, the question is, “What are the most effective ways of changing behavior based on research?” Developing positive, prosocial behavior not only develops habits you wish to see, but can eliminate behaviors that interfere with your child’s adjustment and functioning.

If the usual methods are working for your child, i.e., he or she is doing well at home and at school, everyone is satisfied, and there are no risks of untoward side effects for the child, then perhaps you do not need to resort to methods I have highlighted. On the other hand, these methods can help ease parenting discipline challenges by achieving changes in your child’s behavior more effectively, more quickly, and more enduringly.

Research tells us that good habits, whether it is eating broccoli or flossing or developing positive opposites in relation to discipline, are not compatible with what many people wish to do or believe are advisable practices. For many parents, discipline means punishment and lessons need to be taught. That is understandable. However, the suggestions I offer are effective in changing behavior and perhaps can be adapted to your personal and cultural views of child-rearing.

Kazdin, A.E. (2013). Behavior modification in applied settings (7 th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kazdin, A.E., & Rotella, C. (2013). The everyday parenting toolkit: The Kazdin Method for easy, step-by-step lasting change for you and your child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. He was the 2008 President of the American Psychological Association and is the author of 49 books for professional-audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, interpersonal violence, and research methods. His work has been translated in several languages throughout the world.


Infants Learn to Walk by Learning to Fall

When a baby starts to fall, our natural instincts tell us to protect them and quickly catch them. In general, parents’ instincts are to catch their children before they “fall” in many aspects in life. But, as with many things that require you to fail before you can succeed, infants need to learn to fall before they can learn how to walk. Researchers at New York University directed by Dr. Karen Adolph have conducted research just recently published in Psychological Science that demonstrates this important pattern of learning (Adolph et al., 2012).

Adolph and her colleagues set out to try to answer the fundamental question: why do experienced crawlers walk? If an infant is an excellent crawler and can get around perfectly well from a stable four-prong position, why then would the infant take a risk to start locomoting by using such an unstable, risky, and unknown method such as walking? This is actually a familiar pattern with many developments through infancy and childhood- many times, children will adopt new strategies for executing something that is initially more difficult than their current strategy. As of now, there is no unified theory about why children might be motivated to make these changes.

Videos of 12-14 month old novice walkers and crawlers playing with caregivers were collected and analyzed to try to uncover more information about the way children learn to walk beyond what is artificially measured by unnatural laboratory “tasks”. Researchers analyzed the video by taking note of how much time they spent crawling or walking, how much they were falling, and the distance that they traveled. The results showed that, overall, novice walkers fell more per hour than expert crawlers.

Importantly, however, the walkers actually moved more and spent more time moving than the crawlers. So, when this was taken into account, the difference in the amount of falls normalized by distance traveled for crawlers compared to walkers disappears. Both crawlers and walkers fall after traveling about the same distance, about the same amount of time, and after about the same amount of steps. Looking at just the walkers, more experience walking was highly correlated with better walking overall they took more steps, traveled further, and fell less frequently than walkers with very little experience.

So why do infants move from crawling to walking? At least the start of the answer is that crawling is no better than novice walking. Crawlers fell just as often as novice walkers (when amount of travel and time traveled is equated between walkers and crawlers). Additionally, walkers could move more than crawlers could. So, if you are falling about the same amount (proportionally) but you can do much more by walking it seems like walking is just a better way to get around.

Another interesting characteristic of infant’s natural walking habits is that they seem to have periods of walking coupled with longer periods of rest and immobilization. That is, they seem to have interleaved rather than massed practice of their walking. We know that in general, interleaved practice is better for long-term learning because it allows time for consolidation, reflection and renewed motivation. It also allows for broader transfer in learning because of the probability that the different practice sessions will be in varied contexts and usually require different movements or constraints. This has been shown in several other domains of learning such as in category induction and memory studies.

In all, though it seems like infants who start to walk are falling more often, it is really not any more risky than crawling when you take into account the amount and distance of travel being done by walking compared to crawling. Thus, infants learn to walk with accompanying increases in falls but not overall increases in falling rates. So, its not a bad thing if the baby falls, it is just a normal progression from crawling to walking. And, as novice walkers become more experienced, their falling rate declines.

Walking is accompanied by more frequent falling, but as they learn the ins and outs of walking and falling, babies will fall less. If your baby has the need for speed and likes to explore, let him or her fall and walk and his or her sense of adventure will be fulfilled.

To read the original article published in Psychological Science, please click here.

To find out more information about Dr. Karen Adolph and other research that her team has done on infant locomotion please click here.


How to Respond When Your Child Hits You

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

Getting hit by your child can be frustrating, embarrassing, and infuriating. For some parents, it brings about a sense of shame and desperation. Many parents worry that their child's aggression toward them is a sign that they've somehow failed as a parent. But most kids hit at one time or another. The way you respond to your child's hitting is the key to nipping it in the bud.


How to stop preschoolers (3 to 5) from hitting

With this set, you should continue to teach them to understand their feelings and express them verbally, but you now want to help them think through situations, empathize with their playmate, and control their emotions before they act. Once your kid has calmed down, you can take them through scenarios of how they could have reacted.

The more your kid has to choose from when they’re, say, in the middle of a heated battle over whether to play Star Wars or Mega Bloks, the better their ability to problem solve will be.

Robson and her husband use this technique with Sebastian. “When he hits, we talk about other ways to get what he needs, like saying ‘I need space.’” And when you see them making non-aggressive choices, Cherland also recommends giving them a compliment like “I saw you let Noah choose which game to play,” to reinforce positive behaviour.

But ongoing hitting could be a sign of more serious neurological issues. That seems to be the story with seven-year-old Zoe,* who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) just before she turned five. Her parents, Jessica and Matt Brandson,* have tried everything they could think of to stop Zoe from using physical aggression, but she continues to hit her four-year-old sister, Charlotte*. “If Charlotte crosses her, she hits first and asks questions later,” says Jessica. “She sees it as retaliation and thinks it’s justified if Charlotte has wronged her.”

Jessica has taken parenting courses, read countless books, and the family even had a counsellor come to their home once a week for six months, and that’s when they learned a few magic words.

When Zoe hits, her parents say: “You hit, you sit!” and she has to go sit on the stairs for seven minutes (one minute for every year of her age). Jessica says it works because it sends a clear message to Zoe that there’s a predictable, non-negotiable consequence.

And all our experts agree that if parents hit their kids, it’s very difficult for kids to learn not to hit in a moment of conflict. “A lot of what we call ‘physical punishment’ is retaliation,” Durrant says. “And we don’t want to teach our children to retaliate. We want to teach them to stand up for themselves.”


Developmental Issues

There are a few key developmental issues that help guide research and theory development. The first issue would be the nature/nurture question.

Nature refers to anything biological in nature, such as genetics. Nurture refers to environmental factors, such as family, friends, and schools. Traditionally, this issue was viewed in terms of how much of some characteristic (e.g., personality) was due to nature and how much was due to nurture. However, we now know that such a viewpoint is far too simplistic. Instead, any developmental outcome is due to the collaboration among nature, nurture, and personal agency.

Another developmental issue is the question of sensitive periods of development. Said another way, is there a certain age range where if a child does not acquire a skill or process, it becomes too late? In this course, we will learn about two areas where there is, indeed, a sensitive period: Language acquisition and attachment.

A third developmental issue is focused upon whether development occurs continuously or in stages. If you think about prenatal development, development is occurring every day, from conception to birth. However, when we study prenatal development, you will find that it is divided into three stages, with each stage ending due to an event or major milestone. Some topics that we will study in here will look at development as continuous, while others will be examined as occurring in stages. (1)