Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Biting and Kicking

C is apparently very sensitive to mosquito bites.  This is not new information...a bite behind his ear looked like a goose egg before deflating.  Still didn't take the shock out of seeing this shiner swell up after getting bitten on the corner of his eye last week.  

Lovely, right?

In other news, there was a kicking incident at school.  After being pulled aside to discuss the afore mentioned incident with his teachers (can you say 'mortifying'?), I asked him why he kicked this poor child (repeatedly while she was trying to sleep).  His response?  "I kicked her.  Can I have my snack?" What?!  I was expecting my sweet boy to be so remorseful, but he seemed to be completely unconcerned with the fact he hurt someone.  With all the violent tendencies in teens making headlines, you can see where this whole series of events had me more than a little worried. When we got home, I started looking for resources on aggressive tendencies in toddlers.  I just couldn't figure out what was behind this.  Luckily, before I could hit the panic button, I came across this article on msnbc.com that discusses how parents should respond when their toddlers act aggressively and what it means. Don't get me wrong, this behavior is NOT something I'll be taking lightly, but at least I have a place to start, some reassurance that this is a normal developmental phase and a little insight into what might have been behind 'the incident'.  I can almost guarantee you he was bored and not wanting to take a nap and acting out for attention (which unfortunately he got in spades from both his teachers and me...sigh).

Here's a (not-so-short) summary of the of the article for my re-reading pleasure should the link above ever stop cooperating:

Q: My 3-year-old nephew is extremely aggressive and shows no remorse for harming people or animals. He yells, kicks, hits and takes toys from other children. He laughs about hurting others. His parents dismiss the problem as him being a baby but I’m appalled. I think he’s a meanie. What should be done? Is this kid likely to become a violent, destructive bully — or worse?
A: ...it’s actually normal for toddlers to bite, hit, grab or otherwise act out aggressively. And, no, this doesn’t mean your toddler will become a teen who saves his allowance for the gun show.
...a study tracked 440 children and adolescents over seven years to determine what causes children to become aggressive and violent. They found that violence in the home, including physical punishment such as spanking, was the strongest predictor of aggression in children. Inhibited temperament — the reserved kids who "fly under the radar" — was the second strongest...
Dr. Robert Sege, chief of pediatrics at The Floating Hospital for Children at New England Medical Center and associate professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston says, “Toddlers are looking at the world and trying out many of their newfound abilities. One of these abilities happens to be aggression." Even though biting and other aggressive moves are developmentally appropriate, the behavior, of course, isn’t pretty — or acceptable. “When you see this behavior it just means it’s the perfect time for grown-ups to start teaching children important lessons about aggression." All children have a peak of aggression around the age of 2 and parents can help them make the transition from aggressive toddlerhood to socially acceptable kindergartener by laying down the rules for your child each time beforehand. “Tell your child here are things you can do and here are the things you can’t do. Give him the rules. Be concrete.”

When kids are successful at getting along, pay attention! Attention to a toddler is like money to an adult; they can’t get enough of it. “Toddlers will go to extremes for attention even if it’s the negative type, so make sure they’re getting plenty of positive attention. Give them a nod, wink or kiss on the head. Tell the child, ‘I love it when you play so nice with your cousin.'” It’s crucial not to just pay attention when it’s bad behavior.

When there is a slip-up, correct the behavior immediately, but don't give them too much attention for unwanted behavior. “Just tell them ‘no biting’ and do a short time out — one minute per year of age. Afterwards, make it simple. Tell them, ‘I don’t want to see you biting again, now go back to playing.’” 
As far as the 3-year-old having remorse, developmentally abstract concepts such as empathy and remorse don't start until around kindergarten age.  What you can do in the mean time is build a vocabulary for emotions.  Many children don’t have the words to express what they’re feeling, so they act out. Talk or read books like “C is for Curious: An ABC of Feelings” is one example — that teach the child how to identify and express complex emotions such as disappointment, confusion or frustration. “If children hurt another child, show them the child crying and ask them, ‘how do you think you made Suzy feel?’ Get them to start thinking about how their actions impact other people. That’s the beginning of empathy.”
Furthermore, don't just pay attention to the noisy, attention-seeking children...also look for the quiet, withdrawn and inhibited kids.  “Inhibited kids don’t connect with people or make friends easily,” says Fischer. “But with these kids one peer or one adult connection can often make a huge difference.”

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