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How many times have you heard yourself say “No biting!” “No hitting! “Stop fighting!”? I bet a thousand times or more than you would care to admit. Infants and toddlers will bite or hit if they are teething. That problem is compounded when they have a twin who’s constantly stealing their toys or invading their space. Since they don’t know how to control their emotions or express their feelings, they will resort to aggressive behavior. This is a natural part of their development but it doesn’t mean we should let it happen or let it get worse.
As soon as your twins show aggressive behavior, it’s important to teach them that hitting and biting are not acceptable. We started addressing aggression issues in our twins at 9 months. It did take time and consistent application of the strategies listed below. If you wait too long to address negative behaviors or let them ‘figure it out’ on their own, the aggression will probably get worse. Also keep in mind it’s a lot harder to teach positive behaviors once children have developed bad habits and they have gotten used to biting or hitting as a way to handle their anger or frustration.
So how can you fix it? Here are 5 strategies that have worked for us.
1. Read to them.
Yes you read that right. There are excellent books that teach not to hit or bite (or whatever aggressive behavior is taking place) by illustrating and reinforcing appropriate activities instead.
Hands Are Not for Hitting
You can get it here: Hands Are Not for Hitting (Board Book) (Best Behavior Series)
Teeth Are Not for Biting
You can get it here: Teeth Are Not for Biting (Board Book) (Best Behavior Series)
Since we have gotten these books, our twins barely hit and bite. We went from daily infractions to a couple of times a month. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had to say “no biting” or “no hitting.” Our twins are 22 months old now.
2. Intervene every time you catch it.
I know with twins it’s not exactly easy to be on top of this, especially when you need to get things done, you may not always ‘catch it.’ But when you do, stop the bad behavior and firmly tell the ‘aggressor’ it’s not okay to bite or hit. Say “no biting or hitting, it hurts.” This may seem obvious, but it’s important to consistently intervene when it happens (if you catch it). Consistency here is key. Every time you step in, you send the message that this behavior will be addressed every time and that you mean business.
3. Time outs.
If you’ve asked them to stop the behavior and you’ve already tried to teach them through books but they keep on biting or hitting, warn them the consequence will be a time out. If they do it again, follow through and put them on a time out. The rule of thumb on the length of time is 1 minute for every year of their age. So if they are 1, they get a 1 minute time out. Keep in mind time outs are only effective if you use them sparingly (for example only use time outs for aggressive behavior) and if you completely ignore them while they are on a time out. Looking at them, or talking to them during time outs defeats the purpose. By doing so, you are rewarding them with attention even if it’s not meant that way.
4. Praise the behavior you want to see.
Whenever they are affectionate with each other or they are nice to each other, make a big deal about it and show happiness and excitement over their love for each other. Clap your hands, ‘oooh and aaaww’ over them and they will want to repeat the behaviors that get them such praise. This has worked for our twins and it’s increased their bond. You can urge these good behaviors by saying “oh look your brother (sister) is upset can you give him (her) a kiss?” Or “oh look your brother(sister) fell. Can you go help him (her)?” This tactic has totally transformed the way our twins treat each other and reinforced their closeness. These days they will kiss and help each other on their own without any urging on our part. It’s the sweetest thing to see.
5. Show them the behavior hurts.
This should be used as a last resort if nothing else has worked. It’s not effective with every child but most Twinmoms I’ve talked to report that it’s worked for them. If your twin bites you, lightly bite them back and say “this is why you don’t bite, it hurts.” This method only worked with our twin Sam when he was an infant. He never bit again. Ian on the other hand wasn’t phased by it one bit. It took reading the “Teeth Are Not for Biting” book over and over and using time outs to get results.
Hopefully these steps will help you to minimize the aggressive behaviors in your twins. The sooner you nip it in the butt the higher your chances of success. Some children stop on their own over time especially once they can talk and express their feelings, but it’s probably a good idea to help the process along.
What about you, how have you stopped the biting and hitting?