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We have all been there, relaxing and enjoying a playdate when suddenly all peace is cut short with great shrieks, cries and wines erupting.

Toddlers and preschoolers are still in the early stages of communicating verbally. Add to the fact that they have little-to-no impulse control and very immature social skills, and you’ve got a recipe for an automatic physical response.

It includes, i.e. hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc., to situations in which they are either frustrated, angry, scared or just tired and out-of-sorts.


  • Stop the behaviour by removing your child from the situation or blocking their hands from contacting you or another child. Say “Stop” firmly but not with anger.

  • Stay calm and in control as yelling or hitting in anger is modelling for our children that these are acceptable ways to behave in response to situations that make us angry.

  • When encountering disrespect and undermining of authority, it is beneficial to look a child in the eye, impress the seriousness of the offence and then give one warning describing the consequence for repeating the behaviour.

  • It gives your child an opportunity to control their behaviour on their own. However, be careful what you say because you MUST follow through if you want to extinguish the behaviour successfully.

  • Should the child not respond to the warning, give your child a brief time away from the situation until they (and you) calm down.

  • When all has calmed down, acknowledge how your child might be feeling and explain why you stopped the behaviour.

  • As the prefrontal cortex of a young child is still developing, they have a little capacity for forethought (i.e. if I hit, I will get into trouble). Therefore, this “silliness” game might assist your child in embracing, accepting and understanding self-control and social skills.

Harsh and negatively aggressive acts do stop behaviour momentarily but are ineffective in changing behaviour in the long term.

So how do we effectively shape or change behaviour?

We need to reward positive behaviour and teach our children what TO DO instead of reacting to inappropriate behaviour.

Suggested Game: “Silliness – I am the boss of you, hands (feet, teeth etc.).” Game. Little ones love the idea of being the ‘boss and generally respond well to this type of play.

Parents are to remind their children that they are the “boss of their hands” and ask them what their hands can and cannot do. i.e.


“What are you going to tell your hands if they smack a friend?”


“I’ll tell them, “no way, hands! I’m, the boss of you, hands!”

For younger, non–verbal children who may not be ready for the “I’m the boss of you, hands!” Game yet, if they’ve hit, pinched, snatched etc. Try ‘checking’ to see if they have gentle hands by exaggeratedly examining their hand and then kissing each palm and declaring “, Yip, that’s a gentle hand, all right!”

The positive, declarative statement will help them to develop a positive self-image and set the foundation for self-control as they grow up believing that, yes, they are good and gentle little people.

The challenge, therefore, is for parents/adults to try not reacting in a manner that comes easy/naturally (yelling and shouting) but to try identifying specific triggers and then redirect the unwanted behaviour.

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