An Eye for an Eye?
So what do you do when your precious child launches an assault on a sibling or friend? Dr. Tobin recommends behavior prediction and intervention rather than reaction. She writes, "If you can identify the situations when your child is more likely to become aggressive, you will do him a big favor by avoiding the situation altogether or redirecting him as needed."
Dr. Tobin also advises parents to keep a close watch during potentially tense situations and to intervene. "I know you want to play with Jason's blocks. Let's ask if we can take turns. If not, we'll play with the cars."
Dr. Spock recommends paying your hitter or biter lots of extra attention in case his or her aggressive behavior is actually a ploy to get a big reaction and undivided attention from caregivers.
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.