Saturday, December 11

Army Mom Travels: Toddler Hits, Bites, Kicks when Mom Returns Home

Question:  My 24 month old is having issues with biting, hitting and kicking. I am in the Army and I am gone a few weeks here and there and every time I return from military duty or training my daughter’s biting, hitting, two-finger scratching (two fingers like a claw) and now kicking, seems to get worse. She does attend daycare, however, none of these issues seem to be a problem at daycare. They are only directed at me and her father.  How do I control or even help stop these behaviors from carrying on in to the 2's and 3's?

Bless you for serving this country.  Your dedication is deeply appreciated - don't ever forget that!

Okay, now that I've wiped my tears...on to biting and hitting - my thing!

If your daughter is doing well at daycare, it sounds to me like what she needs at home is more of what she gets at daycare: structure, consistency, limits (these are part of my Five Basics found in the book).  Toddlers LOVE a set routine and get loads of security from knowing what comes next and what to expect.  Your schedule is upsetting to her, as toddlers need consistency to keep them balanced.  She's only showing you she's off balance and feeling insecure.  BUT, your schedule is what it is and we need to get a mutual respect going.  She has to respect that you have a job to do, that you don't love her any less, and you are doing your best.  And you have to respect that she needs a little different approach from you to decrease the unwanted behaviors.  Often our guilt overrides what is best for our kids - thus we give them what they want all the time, thinking it will make them happy - or we overlook hitting because we know they are tired or upset.  The intention is honorable, but it only serves to make them feel more and more insecure, as they are desperately searching for boundaries.  So the "respect" she needs from you is firm and loving guidance. 


1.  Look on my website for the TAG (Toddler ABC Guide) for a very basic overview of the three steps to decreasing unwanted behavior.  It really needs to be used in conjunction with the book - there is just too much information to put in an email or simple 4 page guide, but it will give you a basic picture of how to approach the behavior.  We have to change our reactions and stop reinforcing behaviors we don't want to see.  (If the hitting and biting gets worse or stays the same, then you are unknowingly reinforcing it - she will do it again because it works.)  You have to look at why she's doing it (my guess is attention and a bit of anger that you are gone) and customize your response.  She has to know that the behavior is unacceptable, of course, but she also has to have guidance on what you WANT to see for next time.  When you first get home, you may need to pull her aside, give her tons of love, and at the same time, if she is resistive or aggressive (in anger or for attention) do not tolerate it.  Give her an outlet for it - stomping her foot, hitting a big ball - whatever you think is appropriate, but do not let aggressive behavior (toward you or your husband) slide.  I know you are just thrilled to see her after being away, but don't let guilt or sadness get in the way of what she needs, okay?  You are a great mom and having to discipline as soon as you step foot in the door only means that you are on the ball and giving her what she needs: consistency, guidance, limits, security, balance.  THAT is love.

2.  When you first get home, set aside time for her - with just you.  A game, a book, a walk - quality time so she can get adjusted to you being home again and get in a groove.  And remember, kids don't need 'things' - they need time.  They don't care about toys and gifts.  Attention is what they want and need.  

3. Get a schedule going.  Have a set routine that you go through with her each and every day.  Ideally, this is one that is carried over even when you are not home - everything at the same time everyday: wake up, breakfast, errands, lunch, nap, snack, play, dinner, bath, bedtime - whatever fits your needs.  But she will do the best when you keep it consistent.  Think about what she does at daycare...the same schedule every day, right?  I'm telling ya, they love it.

Best of luck - you are awesome and I know you can do it!

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