Handling Hard Things: Preventing Hitting, Biting, and Kicking

Kimberly Lindgren, OTR/L - April 30, 2021

Hitting, biting, and kicking is common among our young kids as they are figuring out how emotions feel in their body, how to problem solve, and how to communicate with others. Oftentimes our kids do not intend to hurt others, rather they are struggling to learn how to manage their own big feelings. 

In this blog we will look at ways to prevent your child from using their body in harmful ways, by incorporating specific daily activities and identifying your child’s triggers and/or unique sensory needs. Hitting, biting, and kicking are your child’s way of saying, “I’m mad!” while also receiving calming deep pressure input (proprioceptive input) that regulates the nervous system. Instead, we can help guide our child to 1) use appropriate language to express their feelings and 2) get this same calming proprioceptive input in a non-harmful way.

Preventing Big Reactions with Small Changes in your Daily Routine…

  • Move Move Move! throughout your day -- especially at the beginning of the day and after school. As sensory OTs we cannot stress how important movement is for emotional regulation. Take a family morning walk, jump on the trampoline, or try out some of our virtual classes which all incorporate some movement and regulating input. For specific calming input, check out our blog on proprioceptive input. 
  • Rough and Tumble: the Frenemy. Rough and tumble play is natural and good for your child! It helps them develop motor, social, and play skills; and helps with self-regulation. Set boundaries on this type of play and when or where it is appropriate. For example, teach your child that they should always ask before rough and tumbling with a friend; “no” means you must stop; and this play is best for at home. If your child has difficulty abiding by the boundaries you set, it’s time to find a different form of play where they can get the same regulating input.
  • Prompt them to ask for help. This is a learned social skill—some adults still struggle with this! When you see your child starting to get frustrated, such as when attempting a challenging task, consider these 4 steps: (1) Prompt them to ask you for help, “That looks really hard! Ask me when you’d like some help.” (2) Do the task together—break the task down into manageable steps or physically do it together. (3) Use positive self talk like, “We can do hard things!” (4) Reflect afterwards about how good it feels to accomplish something that is hard for us or how each time we practice it will get a little easier.

Determine Your Child's Unique Behaviors and Reactions

  • Identify the trigger. Does your child hit when your attention has deviated from them? Does kicking occur during transitions, such as leaving for school or lining up in the classroom? Maybe your child gets physical during tasks they feel are too challenging for them. Finding the trigger will help you prepare your child for these difficult moments, or adapt how you navigate certain environments and situations.
  • Consider anything sensory. Overwhelming environments or sensory input can set your child off to get physical with other, but in actuality your child is either: (1) stuck in a physiological ‘fight, flight, freeze’ moment due to a high-stress situation, or (2) your child is attempting to self-soothe. For example, a child bites in crowded environments like the grocery store because it is too loud, bright, and overwhelming. Consult with an occupational therapist specialized in sensory integration or join us for office hours to pinpoint your child’s sensory preferences and how to best support them.

We are here to help you discover the best strategies for your child, so they can meet their maximum potential. Soon we'll be posting a blog to go over how to help your child calm down in the moment, and how to reflect with your child afterwards.

All the best <3