What should I do if my child hits, kicks, or bites?

Dear Acenda,

I thought the terrible twos were behind us, but my son is now 5 years old and has begun to act out aggressively. It began as slight pushing while playing with toys and has escalated recently to biting other kids on the playground. I don't know how to handle the situation! I know he doesn't mean any harm, but I can't help my frustration. I don't want to punish him too severely if this behavior could be a cry for help.

Mommy Mayhem

Dear Mommy Mayhem,

There are a number of reasons why children hit, kick, and/or bite. These behaviors aren't necessarily an indicator for future child behavior. Sometimes, your little one is struggling with how to express their anger, fear, or frustration. Other times, they might be curious about the big reaction the behavior gets, and a whole spectrum of reasons in between. Ashley Lasoski, LSW, Program Coordinator for Acenda's Mobile Response and Stabilization Services, is here to help.

Child slapping book out of hand
Try these 5 ideas for managing your child's behavior and keeping everyone safe.
  1. Respond quickly and calmly to the incident. Each bite, hit, or kick should get the kiddo taken out of the action right away — removed from the game, the fun, the friend, etc. The action should get very little attention. Kids see attention and energy as a reward for the behavior even if it isn't good attention.
  2. Avoid using this moment to question your child about this behavior. You won't get a satisfactory response from them. They likely have no idea why they bit, hit, or kicked. And remember, questioning is giving them that attention and energy.
  3. Give all of your energy to the person who got hurt. Now that your little one has been removed from the engagement, make a big deal of checking on the one who got bit, hit, or kicked.
  4. It's very important that positive behaviors get the big reactions. Even if you see your child almost hit, but change their mind, this is a big opportunity to recognize their strength and self-control. It doesn't matter if they turn around and hit right afterwards. You'll remove them from the fun, engage with the person who got hurt, and allow your child to observe the different reactions based on their actions.
  5. Be aware of the content they're exposed to. Video games and TV certainly aren't the only causes for behaviors like these, but if your child is hitting frequently, it might be time to look at what they're watching or playing.

If you want to learn more about an approach to engaging with your kids to see changes in their behaviors, contact a Family Success Center near you and ask about Acenda's Nurtured Heart Approach trainings.

If you are worried about your child's behaviors, call PerformCare at 1-877-652-7624 and ask for Mobile Response to have a Mobile Response Worker respond to your home within the hour to begin working with you and your family and connect you to appropriate services as needed. Acenda also offers Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) through our Counseling & Wellness Centers to address undesirable behaviors such as acting out, tantrums and oppositional tendencies.