Other reasons they may be doing it is to try and engage in being social. As an adult, common sense tells us that it is bad manners and not socially appropriate to spit, but as a child, this might not always be so clear. One way or another, spitting is a behavior that is not socially appropriate in these parts of the world. The strain it brings upon parents is immense and all manners and ways of dealing with it have been tried and tested. Some work for some children and not for others. Some strategies such as putting something ill-tasting in the child’s mouth EVERY TIME they spit may not be the most ethical of strategies but have been known to work.
The method in which this behavior is dealt with needs the same integral ingredient as with any other behavior you are trying to reduce-it needs a consistent response. Please remember that when you decide on a method for tacking a(ny) behavior, you may have to carry out your response 5, 10 maybe 15 times before your child realizes that this is what is going to happen every time they preform the undesired behavior.
So what to do…. The strategies below have been tried and tested. Whatever you decide, remember to carry out EXACTLY THE SAME RESPONSE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE BEHAVIOUR and there is a (good) chance it’ll get worse before it gets better. Just keep calm and keep going…..
A short rhyme to address this and other difficult behaviors (use with pictures of these animals and one of your child behaving as you wish)
But WE don’t!
If the negative behavior is observed, immediately ask “are you a camel?” , “no, I’m not a camel” I didn’t think so …lets sing our song”.
Tip: Sing to a melody that they like to sing.
Say “stop, spitting is yucky” and walk away, completely ignore the child for 2-3 minutes (The appropriate time for your child). If you engage in reprimanding the child then you are giving them attention (which may be the reason they are doing this). Young children don’t care whether the attention they receive is positive or negative, all attention is good. It is very important that when the child is doing things that ARE desirable, that you specifically praise that behavior such as “ Very good sharing” “Very good sitting” “ You are being very gentle with the doggy, very good”. If the spitting is an attention seeking behavior, give them the attention they seek, but for things you want them to do.
Note: The behavior must be ignored by EVERYONE. Remember, attention is attention, no matter who it comes from.
In line with the Strategy 2, you could try using a visual of a child spitting and another of mummy/other people sad. Again, when the child spits this is immediately shown alongside mummy showing a very sad face and then walk away and ignore the child for 2-3 minutes. It is very important that when the child is doing things that ARE desirable, that you specifically praise the behavior. “ Very good sharing” “Very good sitting” “ You are being very gentle with the doggy, very good”. If the spitting is an attention seeking behavior, give them the attention they seek, but for things you want them to do.
Are there certain times when you consider that it is ok to spit? If so praise the spitting at these times. Again, visuals are really good for communicating when it is ok to spit.
This mother used a fabulous strategy whereby every time the child spat, she made them brush their teeth. Check out this short video where mum describes how she did it (patience, calm tone and consistent) and the result.
My advice to try one strategy and use it consistently for 1-2 weeks (depending on the frequency of the behavior ) so the child can become familiar with the method. Part of the process is you, the parent becoming comfortable in using a(ny) strategy.
As time goes on and your familiarity with a strategy develops, you may find you need to use a blend of these strategies to get the desired outcome. Consistency is the key!
Best of Luck-feedback is most welcome.
Dr. Sara Jane