Assessing the Damage
While plenty of moms will recount stories of hitting and biting their children back to teach them a lesson, every published pediatrician and child psychologist wholeheartedly disapproves of this eye-for-an-eye method of discipline. They say that it only promotes aggressive behavior because hitting or biting is endorsed by none other than a child's greatest role models: his or her parents!
According to Dr. Scholer, "There is no one correct response to an aggressive child. Parents should have a skill set that enables them to respond appropriately, using strategies such as setting the rule, redirecting, promoting empathy, time-outs, or taking away privileges."
For young children who can't really understand an in-depth discussion of the Golden Rule, a firm response like "No hitting!" and some time alone in the crib or bedroom is a good response to violent behavior. Older children can be taught empathy and can have privileges like TV time, games, or other favorite activities removed for their transgressions.
No matter how you decide to deal with your child, always remember to sincerely apologize to the parents of the victim and assure them that you're working on the problem. And if your child is in the midst of a hitting or biting phase, you might want to warn other parents before play dates so everyone can keep an eye out for trouble and jump in to diffuse tense situations before a potentially painful result.
As surely as most children go through a brief hitting or biting stage, most also find themselves in the role of punching bag at some point. If your child is the victim of an assault, take a breath and don't freak out. Toddlers are rarely strong enough to hit with enough force to even cause a bruise. They are more likely to strike out blindly and slap another child or give a hearty shove, dumping their victim on his or her bottom. However scary and unkind this may seem to you and your little one, it's not cause for alarm, and overreacting can make the situation worse for everyone. Simply pick your child up, comfort him just as you would if he'd tripped and fallen and send him off to play with another group of kids or settle him quietly beside you with a toy or snack.
Dads—resist the urge to buy tiny boxing gloves and show your child how to defend himself. Rather than teach your child that aggression is acceptable, instruct him to say, "That hurts!" and walk away to play with someone else or to tell the nearest adult what happened.
Bites are another story, because they can cause real damage. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Human bites can often be as dangerous as, or more dangerous than animal bites because of the types of bacteria and viruses contained in the human mouth." Here's how to treat a bite that breaks the skin:
- Apply direct pressure to stop bleeding.
- Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
- Use antibiotic cream or spray.
- Apply a clean bandage.
- Ask your doctor about tetanus shots or antibiotics to fight possible infection.
The instinct to protect our young kicks in with a vengeance when we see them get hurt, and it can take a whole lot of willpower to resist resorting to toddler behavior, too.
If the aggressor's caregiver doesn't witness the incident, you are completely within your right to say, "That's not nice. We don't hit!" before removing your child from the situation. If you know the other child's parents, calmly telling them what transpired should do the trick.
As hard as it may be, don't blame the child's parents for his actions. Realize that it's just a stage in most children's development, and the roles could be reversed some day with your little sweetheart taking a swing at someone.
If your child is the victim of a habitual aggressor, it may be in everyone's best interest to take a break for a while until the child outgrows the behavior. If the aggressive child belongs to your best friend or cousin and avoidance isn't possible, keep a close eye on the kids and intervene if you see them fighting over a toy or any other situation that might escalate into violence. If your child is being hurt at preschool or daycare, talk to his teachers about the problem and see what they recommend.