My son has hit, kicked, bit, thrown things since he was 18 months. When he was younger, we said things like “use your words” or “you’re going to go into time out.” It worked sometimes. Of course he got older, and that didn’t work at all. He got sassier and bolder and I hoped and prayed that with age, he would be able to better process his emotions and the outbursts would lessen. We got to the point where it felt like spanking would be the only way to really reduce the angry outbursts.
We created a spanking protocol so that we wouldn’t spank out of anger and of course not actually hurt our child…but something about hitting to stop more hitting didn’t sit right with me. And surprise! It didn’t work.
When he started Pre-K, his behavior was like night and day. Age really did make a difference and we felt like we were in the clear. Then we found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic. My son, who had been in school full-time (even summers) since he was 12-weeks-old was suddenly really, really sad and angry and struggled to process his emotions being away from his buddies. And the hitting, kicking, biting, and throwing that had previously subsided, was suddenly worse than ever.
I turned to a friend, and I have to give her all of the credit here. She works with children with behavioral disabilities and she offered the BEST and most effective tip ever for a non-violent remedy to violent behavior… YUCKY SPRAY.
What is “Yucky Spray?”
Yucky Spray is diluted almond extract in a spray bottle. It’s bitter and for a child who only likes carbs and fruit, it tastes terrible.
Both my husband and I have sprayed it into our mouths, and it tastes like water with a really bitter after taste.
How do you use Yucky Spray?
I introduced my son to his very own bottle of Yucky Spray the DAY that I heard about it after a quick Target run. I explained, “this is a Yucky Spray. If you hit, kick, bit or throw things you are immediately going to get a Yucky Spray in your mouth.” Not long after this, he hit or kicked. I didn’t say a word. I got my spray bottle, I squeezed his cheeks to open his mouth and I sprayed one quick spray in his mouth.
With the MOST dramatic response of all time, he quickly realized that he did NOT like it.
After that, he hit or kicked again, immediate Yucky Spray but this time he said “NO!”
After that, he did something again, and again he tried to avoid it but I immediately got the spray.
Then the time between Yucky Spray was spread out. I still have the original bottle that I filled in March and I have only used it maybe 10 times. It became a punishment that my son really did not want and he had to really think about correcting his behavior and process his feelings in other ways.
A Few More Thoughts
Look, it doesn’t stop all aggressive behavior. It definitely slows the behavior, the behavior subsides, and the threat of Yucky Spray (unlike time-out) can nip the behavior in the bud pretty fast.
Although I immediately use it when the behavior happens, it is a last resort in that we really try to recognize the signs of an outburst, we offer our son opportunities to change course so he doesn’t have an outburst (eat if he is hungry, sleep if he is tired, or watch some TV and relax if he is totally over-stimulated).
I worry that I may totally ruin almond extract for my son, but it’s a necessary trade off.
I always immediately hold him and give him water and talk to him about not hitting in a quiet, loving voice. I never delay or extend punishment past a minute or two because I don’t believe that my four-year-old is capable of understanding the causal connection between the behavior and punishment if I wait too long.
When you’re on the go, carry a travel spray bottle, or if you’re at a restaurant, asking the waiter for a straw and vinegar can be helpful too if your child does not like the taste of vinegar.
As a parent, you know what works and what doesn’t work. I HOPE that this is a useful tool for you.