Last week, I introduced this series on some must-have rules for kids. Rules should be created in kids’ lives to help them learn about how the world works and how they are supposed to act and interact in the world. The rules that are part of this series help kids to learn about the world; they aren’t simply rules that parents establish to make their own lives easier, but actually as a way to help kids learn appropriate behaviors at an early age.
As a therapist, one of the main complaints I get from parents, daycare providers and teachers has to do with a child who is using aggression.
Children who use aggression at home, daycare or school are likely to get a lot of attention—albeit negative—from adults because those adults are terrified about the safety of the child and the other children who are the recipients of that aggression.
Children who use aggression to solve their problems—and who don’t receive assistance to change that pattern of behavior—grow into teenagers and adults who use aggression to get what they want. And frankly, these adults are likely to end up in some sort of correctional facility because the social rule indicates that using aggression to solve problems isn’t socially acceptable.
It’s absolutely necessary that you start immediately to teach children that using aggression, like biting, hitting, kicking and scratching, as a way to solve problems and deal with anger is absolutely unacceptable.
All kids will experience a phase in which they use aggression, especially biting, to solve their problems. This is normal and you shouldn’t fear that your two-year-old is going to end up in jail someday simply because he is called “the biter” in his daycare classroom.
However, even though it is age appropriate, it’s still essential that you start teaching him how to use non-aggressive ways of interacting, or nice touches, so that he can transition out of that biting stage as soon as possible.
To teach nice touches, start by demonstrating what nice touches look and feel like. Hold your child’s hand gently and pat it, saying “Nice touches.” Ask your child to practice nice touches on you. Correct her if she is wrong by re-demonstrating how to use nice touches on her arm. When she does it correctly on your arm, confirm her actions by smiling and saying, “Nice touches.”
Remember to praise her whenever you see her using nice touches, whether you’ve reminded her to do it or not. For example, when you see her petting the neighbor’s cat gently, say “The kitty likes when you use nice touches with her. Listen to how she purrs each time you use a nice touch with her. Way to go!”
To correct a child when he isn’t using nice touches, gently grab his hand when you see that he has not used nice touches. Remind him to use nice touches by saying, “That was not a nice touch. Remember to use nice touches [while patting his hand gently]. Can you show mommy how to use nice touches again?” Revert to the method above for teaching nice touches if he struggles to show you how to use nice touches. If a consequence is needed, consider using a natural consequence that is related to his aggressive, unfriendly touches and teaches him what might happen to him in the future if he continues to use behaviors like this.
For most parents, the rule related to nice touches is a very important one because children naturally use aggression to deal with emotions when they get out of control. This is something that is naturally going to occur, even for the most well-behaved of children.
The earlier that adults are able to teach their expectations to use nice touches, the earlier that a child is able to start thinking about the fact that using aggression will not be acceptable. This increases the chances that children will use socially appropriate methods for solving problems in the future and decreases the chances that they will participate in behaviors that might place them in correctional facilities as teenagers and adults. This may seem harsh to say, but if you neglect to teach children not to use aggression, this is a consequence that you must be prepared for.