Have you ever heard the expression that “Nothing changes if nothing changes?” It means that if what you are doing is not working with your child, then it may be time to try a new strategy.

Have you ever heard the expression that “Nothing changes if nothing changes?” It means that if what you are doing is not working with your child, then it may be time to try a new strategy.

I once read that the definition of insanity is when we keep doing the same thing over and over but expect a different result. Are you yelling and spanking to stop your child from aggressive behaviors, and yet your child continues to hit? Maybe something needs to change.

Much of my work has been with families who were referred by their preschool because the child was aggressive and at risk for being expelled -- at 2, 3 or 4 years old. The choice was simple: either learn new strategies to eliminate the hitting or biting, or find a new preschool.

I recently had the opportunity to model a successful three-step intervention for a mom and dad when their 4-year-old son deeply scratched his 5-year-old sibling for no apparent reason. Asking a child “Why did you do that?” will get a response of “I don’t know” or “He was bothering me.” So … don’t ask.

Children display aggressive behaviors because they get something out of it -- usually lots of attention. We yell, spank and send them to time out, where they get up and down. An alternative three-step process works when it is done with consistency, because it focuses attention on the victim, not the aggressor.

1. Do not yell from across the room. Immediately go to the “aggressor” and firmly hold the area that they used (chin for a biter, hand for a hair puller or hitter, foot for a kicker). In a deep voice, say very slowly “You may not (bite, kick, hit).” (Not WE don’t bite, because WE didn’t bite! Keep the attention focused on the aggressor. Watch your language.)

2. Quickly go to the victim and lavish your attention. “Are you all right? Would you like ice on it? Would you like a glass of juice? I’m so sorry you’re hurt.” Stay with the victim, giving your complete attention. No eye contact or re-engaging with the aggressor.

3. When the aggressor approaches, bend down, make a connective touch and say, “when you are ready to apologize for ____, I’m here for you,” and return all attention to the victim. Telling a child “I’m here for you” gives the security of parental, unconditional love, which he needs in order to recover and re-engage with success. Ignore him until he apologizes, for however long it takes. If he tries to distract, re-engage, asks for a drink, etc., bend down and repeat, “when you apologize for ____, I’m here for you.” As soon as the child takes responsibility and apologizes to the victim for the exact behavior, accept and move on. Don’t lecture.

This incremental training can be completely effective -- when it's done consistently -- to teach young children that biting or hitting won’t be tolerated. That’s the key. We need to teach them in order for them to learn.

In working with so many families, I understand and know first-hand that it can be very difficult to implement a new intervention, something that requires thought, consistency and patience; something very different from the way we’ve been doing it. But remember, nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Repository contributor Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S., Canton OH 44702.