Danny just turned three years old and he used to be that kid. That kid that bites, hits and screams at playgroup…The kid everyone kind of sighs about when he arrives. That kid that ends up being placed in time out several times or taken home mid activity.
Danny isn’t that kid anymore! Here is a glimpse of what happened at playgroup recently:
“I’m soooo angry!” said Danny at playgroup loudly, as he huffed and puffed and finally stomped his foot. He had been fighting for a turn on a tricycle.
He ran over to me and asked for a calming bottle.
As Danny sat with a calming bottle, he mumbled under his breath a few words of frustration, shook the bottle a few times and then started to track a star inside the bottle.
“Feeling upset Danny?” I asked.
“YES! Angry. Angry at Michael. He took the tricycle. I want to ride it.”
“You wanted to ride the tricycle, Michael took it and you feel angry. Is that it?”
“YES! I did not like that. Did NOT! Feel Angry!” Danny said, looking at me and then going back to tracking the star.
“Want me to stay with you?” I asked.
Danny nodded and then placing one of his little hands on my knee his breath became noticeably calmer.
Danny sat for another few minutes with the calming bottle, tracking the star as it slipped in and out of view. I sat next to him, simply present but not interfering with his work.
Soon enough Danny got up, returned the bottle to me with a smile “I ready” and he worked to re-join the group of children playing.
Nobody was hurt! Danny talked about his feelings. Danny cooled off without time out. He asked for the bottle again later to calm down again. Awesome right!?
Discipline for that Kid that Bites, Hits and screams
The truth about that biting, hitting, aggressive, screaming child….They, like all children, use behavior to express their needs. More often than not, the biting, hitting, kicking, screaming, are calls for help. Like all children, they need discipline based on guidance, kindness, trust, respect and boundaries.
Children like Danny don’t need time out or punishment to learn to behave better. What they really need is help learning to respond to their own feelings and emotions. They need acceptance. And most of all, they need to learn self-regulation skills so they can understand and correct their own reactions.
Danny is working on understanding how to take turns, accepting that not having a turn leads to frustration and that frustration is something everyone can learn to tolerate and overcome. He is learning how to name his feelings and knowing what to do when his feelings become oh so overwhelming. His mother is learning to accept that tears, frustration and anger are acceptable, normal, developmentally appropriate expressions for a three year old.
Danny really was that kid. Months ago, given the same scenario, Danny would have been more likely to kick, hit or punch his playmate than to have acknowledged is own frustration and anger. He would have run away, kicking and screaming until he got that tricycle.
Of course, given imperfect human nature, Danny’s reactions are not always like this one. Yet, as each week goes by, the smoother and easier Danny seems to be picking up on his own need to calm down and search for a safe alternative to hitting, knocking over, kicking or biting his playmates.His mother has shared that simply validating and accepting her son’s feelings has completely changed most of his behavior at home.
Self-regulation and discipline, is important and it’s a process. It’s not magic, it’s not a quick fix. It’s not learned by time out or counting to three. While we use a calming bottles, or crumpling paper (for example), it’s not as simple as stuffing rice into a bottle and handing it over. There have been tears… lots of them. There has been time dedicated to listening to grumbling, frustration, sadness and fears. There has been a lot of validating, accepting and setting limits with kindness. It has taken patience and a willingness to throw out “traditional” discipline out the window and turn instead towards understanding and meeting Danny’s needs.
The work however, is totally worth it. Danny isn’t that kid anymore, and really, no child deserves to be labeled or treated like that kid. They do deserve a chance at receiving guidance, respectful discipline and kindness.
Peace & Be Well,
Here are many Alternatives to Time out that are respectful and helpful towards learning self regulation.
These three books are excellent resources for parents looking to learn more about emotion coaching, teaching self-regulation skills, connection based discipline and collaborative problem solving: