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Spitting Behavior: Why It Happens And How To Make Your Child Stop It

Arun Sharma Arun Sharma 6 Mins Read

Arun Sharma Arun Sharma

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Along with good habits, children also develop unacceptable ones like spitting. If your child has got into this habit, how could you change his behavior?

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Spitting Behavior: Why It Happens And How To Make Your Child Stop It

Kamala was watching television while her four-year-old son Ravi played with his toys. A little later Ravi's older sister joined him in play. Ravi leaned close to his sister and spat on her. Hurt and upset, Rhea ran crying to their mother Kamala. She 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 behavior?

Behind every negative behavior is a child waiting for some need to be met. Was Ravi upset because he was struggling with the toy, or that his sister disturbed his play, or that he needed his mother’s attention? How else could his mother have handled his behavior?

Almost every child displays some unacceptable behavior once in a while. The habit of spitting is one such example.

Parents usually resort to severely reprimanding or punishing their children when they indulge in spitting. And they feel thoroughly annoyed when the habit persists despite their efforts to break the habit.

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Why does your child spit

Let’s explore some of the common reasons why your child may resort to spitting and what you could do to help them get over the habit:

  • Seeking attention: Your child yearns for your attention and will do everything possible to get noticed. And when their attempts aren't successful, they resort to negative behaviors like spitting. This usually gets your attention and elicits an immediate response from you.

What you can do: So, respond immediately to your child’s physical needs especially when they are sleepy, tired, or hungry. Your child also has emotional needs – to feel loved even when they have done something wrong; to feel accepted even when they are yet to learn some skills, to feel comforted when they can’t manage their emotions, to feel secure knowing they can trust you to be there for them. And when you respond to their needs with kindness and understanding they will feel a deep emotional connection with you.

  • Expressing difficult emotions: Like you, your child also experiences negative emotions such as anger or frustration. But your child may lack the vocabulary or adequate language skills to name their emotions or express in words the anger and the frustration they are feeling. This prompts them to express their feelings by acting out what they are feeling. These acting out behaviors take the form of tantrums, aggressive, stubborn, and inappropriate behavior.

What you can do: Help your child learn the vocabulary they can use to express their emotions – angry, sad, afraid, jealous, disappointed. You could also display an emoji chart and ask your child to point to the emotion they are feeling. Older children can learn to talk about their feelings, “I am angry because…” or “I am feeling sad about…”, and so on. Talking about their feelings is the first step to learning to manage their emotions.

  • Feeling anxious or stressed: Your child could feel anxious and stressed for a number of reasons. However, you may not be aware that your child is feeling worried or distressed. Fear is the root cause for worry and anxiety about people or situations. Sometimes you may ignore or brush aside their fears believing they will just go away after a while.

What you can do:  Your child's fears are very real because they are still not able to see the differences between reality and fantasy. On the other hand, you can make your child feel fearful when you use threats to manage their behavior or to get them to cooperate. Instead, you could recognize your child’s fears by reading their body language and facial expressions. To make your child feel comfortable, share some of the fears you had as a child. And when your child shares their fears with you give them a big hug to make them feel better. Then follow it up with naming some helpful things your child could do to feel safe during the fearful moments such as talking to you about it, punching out the fear into a pillow, scribbling out the feeling of fear, or imagining themselves to be a superhero who can thrash the fear.

  • Imitating others: Your child is learning a lot by experience and observation. Being in the company of another child or adult who spits can make your child pick up the habit too.

What you can do: Make sure you model the behavior you would like to see in your child. If your child is imitating another child's spitting behavior firmly tell them that spitting is not acceptable. Next, try to find out what your child could be upset about and reassure them by saying, “I’m glad you told me what was upsetting you. I can understand why you are upset.” This shows your child that you are a caring and helpful parent, and it makes him want to listen to you.

  • Other reasons: Maybe your child spits just for the fun of it or because they find it entertaining. And when those around react, it becomes even more stimulating.

Also, your child may spit on someone to show defiance or to use it as a self-defense tactic—for instance, if they don't want another child to take away their toy, or be disturbed by them.

Could it be that your child wants to test your reactions to see if you will be amused or upset by their behavior?

What you can do: Handle the situation firmly but without shaming your child in the presence of others. If necessary, step aside with your child for a few moments till your child is ready to join the group again on the condition that they do not indulge in spitting. Do remember that children need frequent reminders to do the right thing.

As children grow they pass through certain phases. Sometimes spitting is just one of them, as is potty talk, or sticking their tongue out at people. So do remember to keep your cool and persist in your efforts to put your child on the right path. However, if you feel that your efforts aren't working, don't hesitate to seek help from the experts.

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