Kamala was watching television while her four-year-old son Ravi played with his toys. A little later, Ravi's older sibling Rhea, joined him in play. After some time, Ravi leaned close to his sister and spat on her face. Hurt and upset, Rhea ran crying to their mother. Kamala scolded Ravi but felt frustrated too. She really didn't know how to change this habit of Ravi's. In the past, when Ravi had resorted to spitting on others, Kamala had reprimanded him, on occasion even hit him, but to no avail. What do you think is the reason behind Ravi's behaviour?
Why children spit
Almost every child displays some unacceptable behaviour, once in a while. The habit of spitting is one such example. It can even be a form of aggressive behaviour, meant to undermine parental authority. There can be other reasons too. While observing your child may help you understand what triggers the spitting, know that there are some common causes for this habit.
- Seeking attention: Young children yearn for attention from their parents. They do everything possible to get noticed, and when their attempts aren't successful, they resort to negative behaviours like spitting. This usually elicits an immediate response from parents.
- Expressing anger or disapproval: Like adults, children can also experience negative emotions like anger or frustration. But most children are unable to label their emotions or express in words what they are feeling, as they lack adequate language skills. This prompts them to act out, and they may resort to spitting.
- Feeling anxious or stressed: Children can feel anxious and stressed for a number of reasons; however, parents may not understand that their child is worried or distressed. This means they do not address the factors causing the child to feel upset or uneasy. Hence, the child continues with the habit of spitting.
- Imitating others: As children grow up, they learn by experience and observation. Being in the company of a child who spits, can make your child pick up the habit too.
- Other reasons: Some children spit just for fun or because they find it entertaining. And, when those around react, it becomes even more stimulating for the child. Also, some children may spit to show defiance or use it as a self-defense tactic -- for instance, if they don't want another child to take away their toy, and so on.
How to deal with the habit of spitting
Parents usually resort to severely reprimanding or punishing their child when she indulges in spitting. And, it can be quite annoying for parents to see their child persist with the habit even after they have used the harshest of measures. If you are a parent who has thrown up his hands in despair, here are a few tips to help you deal with the situation:
- Reinforce positive behaviour: If you resort to hitting or scolding your child whenever she spits, she is unlikely to change. Instead, use positive reinforcement techniques. Make it a point to show your appreciation when your child displays good behaviours or makes the effort to do something well. Rewarding your child in such a way can encourage her to adopt good behaviours and shun bad ones.
- Teach language skills: The inability to express themselves can be quite frustrating for children. Help your child understand his feelings by naming them. Teach him the appropriate way of expressing himself by developing his language skills.
- Tell them spitting is unacceptable: Send your child the message that the habit of spitting is unacceptable. Reinforce it every time he repeats the act. However, while you do this, resist the temptation to give lengthy lectures, as your child is too young to understand most of what you may say.
- Facing the consequences: Allowing your child to face the natural consequence of her actions can be a good learning experience. Whenever your child spits, hand her a piece of cloth or cleaning material and, ask her to clean up the mess she has created.
- Use time-outs: When your child spits out of anger or frustration, it is a good idea to remove him from the scene. In a calm and steady tone, direct your child to go to his room immediately. Once time-out is over, and your child is calm again, you can speak to him and reinforce why spitting is unacceptable behaviour.
Aggressive acts like spitting are provocative and can test parents' ability to stay calm and patient. Make it a point to not lose your cool and persist in your efforts to put your child on the right path. However, if you feel that your attempts aren't working, don't hesitate to seek help from experts.
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