Parenthood. Stay at home parenthood. Some days I feel as though I might as well be Dorothy in Oz. But instead of lions, tigers, and bears, I have hitting, biting, and hair-pulling. Instead of flying monkeys, it's yogurt-smeared tables. Instead of the Wicked Witch of the West, it's simultaneous temper tantrums. Of course I can't click my heels and say "there's no place like home", because I am home!!
Seriously though, what is it with the toddler aged kids and their hitting, biting, and hair-pulling?!?! I know, I know, they can't express themselves in words, so they act out. I get the logic behind that. But that isn't helping me all that much when my beautiful little daughter is exhibiting these behaviors at playdates. I've had other moms ask ME how to handle these behaviors because I have a 4 year old and so they think I must have been through all this and have an arsenal of awesome parenting knowledge. While I am appreciative of their confidence in me, I feel like I have very little to offer anyone else. I worked full-time when M was 2. There were occasional notes home from daycare about these behaviors, but the daycare teachers were on the scene and they ultimately dealt with these issues. On weekends or other times when I wasn't working, we didn't hang out much with other kids, so I rarely had to discipline these behaviors.
So now here I am. An "experienced" parent lacking the knowledge of how to deal with these issues. Of course there is a lot of advice offered on the subject, all of which I appreciate, because it is all coming in the name of helping. Much of it is tried and true advice from other parents. Right now, I'm going the route of immediately making her say sorry and reminding her that our mouths are for eating and our hands are for being gentle with others. If it seems appropriate in the moment (like with a friend we see often), I have her hug them when she says sorry, to reinforce that we use our hands to be kind. If it is someone we don't really know, I don't ask her to hug them, I just have her say sorry, I say sorry to the parent, and I just remove her from the situation.
I talked with a friend of mine who previously owned her own daycare and now works for a daycare facility specifically about the biting issue, so that I could have some expert advice to provide to my readers (and myself).
If the issues are occurring at home, between siblings, try putting the item they are fighting over "in time out". They will (usually) eventually realize that they would rather share the item than lose it all together. This may take a while and, as in all things parenting, you need to be consistent. This is worth mentioning, since I think younger siblings sometimes take to some of these physical measures to stand their ground against an older sibling who wants the same things as them. Sibling rivalry starts very early… but I won’t get too much into that now, as that is a topic for another whole blog post.
If the issue happens at a park, playdate, etc, take the biter aside and put them in a timeout. One minute per their age is the typical norm. Since L is almost 2, I'll be doing 2 minute time outs. Again, be consistent. It can be difficult on parent and child to put them in timeout at a park or someone else's house, but if you let them get away with biting (or some other behavior) when you are out, purely because you don't want the "embarrassment" or "hassle" of punishing in front of others, you are showing a lack of consistency to the child.
To my working parent readers, if your child is having issues like this at daycare, be sure that you ask them what they do in the heat of the moment. I was a bit short-sighted when M was younger and just kind of let the daycare teachers handle it since she didn't really do it inder my watch and you can't discipline a 3 year old 5 hours later anyway. It all worked out for M, so I don't regret that I didn't push to learn more about the biting situation at her daycare. However, had I known then that I would choose to stay home with L during this age range, I do think I would have been a bit more tuned in while it was happening.
To the parents whose children have never bitten another child, please have an understanding and forgiving mind and heart if you come across a child who bites or hits your child during the toddler years. The first time I heard about biting at M's daycare was when she was the one who was bitten. I was pretty mad and upset. What kind of monster bit my sweet, innocent baby girl?! Within a couple of weeks, I got the call that M had bitten a classmate. And just like that, the tables were turned. So please, don't judge the child or the parent based purely on these actions. Hopefully they'll offer an apology, which you can hopefully accept. If it happens frequently with the same child, you may want to consider saying something to the parent or sitting close by while the kids play so that you can jump in and redirect one of the children if you see things going in a bad direction. Also consider getting a larger group together to play - maybe having more options of who to play with or what to play with could alleviate some tensions.
So, if you have a child who is acting out in one of these ways, choose a method of handling this and be consistent. Remember that the hitting, biting, and hair pulling probably won't last forever. Watch how all parties in the home (and your typical play settings) respond to adversity. Try to keep your own cool as you deal with these situations. Toddlers are sometimes feeding off the energy of those around them. If all else fails, try clicking your heels and saying, “there’s no place like home”