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January 23, 2019

Hitting, Pushing & Shoving

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Behavior challenges: where they come from and how to promote positive behaviors.

To prepare for the Tricky Behaviors Facebook live Q&A, we asked the staff from the Brighter Futures Indiana team about the most common behavioral challenges for toddler and preschool-age children.

Some parts of this conversation were summarized for brevity.

BFIN: What are some of the most common behavior issues for toddler and preschool-age kids?

Jennifer: Biting is a really common one, shoving or pushing, taking away toys from other children. Hitting can be another common one.


BFIN: I’ve heard you mention that you don’t like using the word aggression. Why is that?

Jennifer: The reason is because the word aggression is extremely broad. It can mean a lot of things. When you hear the word aggression, what comes to mind is having the intention of hurting someone. Very often with children, it is not intentional. A lot of these behaviors in children have the intention of gaining something. For example, a child gets in front of another one at the slide and they push them down. Well, they didn’t push to be mean — they pushed so they could go down the slide themselves.

BFIN: So the issue is not feeling “aggressive,” but something else?

Jennifer: Young children might not understand how to wait or that they will get a turn. Toddlers are still learning the social skills to handle the situation.

Hitting, Shoving, & Pushing

BFIN: Does all shoving and pushing happen when a child is trying to gain something?

Jennifer: Some kids just crave more rough play. But rough play is part of development and one way kids can develop their motor skills. A good way to deal with this issue is to have activities where kids can practice their gross motor skills, like crawling, pillow fights, climbing, riding bikes, bouncy balls, running and jumping. In other, more rare cases, these behaviors may be a sign of aggression at home.

BFIN: What are some ways to encourage positive behaviors in children who are hitting, shoving and pushing?

Jennifer: In many cases, the main issue is that a child’s language may not be developed enough to say “I want this” or “I don’t want that.” Another thing to think about is that many times a young child does not have the skill to understand how someone else feels. For example, a child wants a blue marker so they hit or shove another kid to get it. And that was their goal, not to hurt. But they may not have the words yet. A good caregiver will help model the right language, “Can i use that?” Helping them see and learn the give and take process.
  • “Let’s be gentle”
  • “Tell your friends what you want”
Starr: Also, waiting is hard — especially at that age. Thirty seconds to a minute is like a lifetime and that gives them time to be upset or to come up with a behavior that may not be ideal.

BFIN: What is an appropriate time for a child to wait?

Jennifer: I’m not going to say there is a specific time to wait. Waiting can’t always be avoided. But there are many ways to be mindful. One example is when a classroom goes to have a drink of water. You see a lot of pushing and hitting. And honestly, think about it: even when you’re an adult, and you have to stand in line at the grocery store, you are bothered because you have to wait. Think about how that affects you as an adult. You have the self-control to not push the person in front of you. For kids, all they are thinking is “as soon as these people are out of the way, I can get my drink of water.” It is the same concept that we have when we have to wait.

BFIN: Do shoving and pushing happen for the same reasons as hitting?

Jennifer: Yes, sometimes. Other times it could be because they are hungry or because they are not feeling well. They are not going to feel like themselves, and some behaviors may come up, and they may just need some time to get their need met. In classrooms, they may need some time away [in a place] where they are not surrounded by a lot of people.

BFIN: When there are behavior issues, we can look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Jennifer: Yes, basic needs need to be met first. So, if they are hungry or tired or sick, we have to meet those needs before we can expect the next-levels of emotion and learning.

Taking Toys Away

BFIN: So if hitting, pushing and shoving are ways for children to express boredom or wanting something. What can caregivers do when a problem arises? Say, a child takes a toy from another child.

Jennifer: More important than stepping in to resolve a problem is to teach children skills for conflict resolution.

BFIN: How can a parent or teacher begin teaching sharing to little kids?

Jennifer: With very little kids, they will not be able to understand because they don’t have those empathy skills. So, you’ll have to make observations of the feelings and model ways sharing can happen:
  • “Tony looks sad. Do you think we can share with him?”
  • “May I have the blue crayon?”
  • “Do you want to take turns using the blue crayon?

Name Calling

BFIN: You mentioned that aggression is not usually behind some of these tricky behaviors. What are the reasons some children name-call other children?

Jennifer: The name calling will more often than not be something silly like “poopy head” and will usually not mean something bad. Children are playing with words. The best way to discourage name calling is to say, “Her name is Penelope. We always call people by their real name.”


BFIN: In cases where children are experiencing anger, what are some ways we can encourage positive behaviors?

Jennifer: Start by validating the feelings: “I can see that you are angry because Kyle has play-doh and you don’t.” Then redirect, help them find something else to do: “No one is playing with the blocks right now, let’s go play with them.” If a child is not ready to move on, give them space away from the other children or people — in the case that you are surrounded by people — and find a way to cope. You can rock them or offer sensory items they can manipulate. Going for a walk and talking through things can help too.

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