This post is in response to two separate situations that have reminded me of a time in my life where my kids (boys particularly) freely bit, kicked and punched each other. Now, don't get me wrong, they still marvel at the occassional 'ball tap' in their words, and I let that slide because i do know 'boys will be boys'. That being said, i feel confident stating that my boys don't hit each other any more.
When my boys were 3 and 1.5 I came to realize that physical aggression was a daily occurrance. There were the usual 'he took my toy' fight, the occassional 'you are in my way' brawl, and then the sporadic 'im going to kill you because i am sick of spending every waking hour with you' war.
I grew up with an older sister and there was limited exposure to aggressiveness since there were just the two of us with a 4 year age span. I didn't have any friends with siblings who faught and i dont remember seeing this kind of fighting on TV. I began to ask other parents and got the same 'boys will be boys' kind of anecdotes with everyone spewing their own personal horror stories of their sons fighting 'smack-down' style.
I decided that not only did I not like this behavior, it was one that was going to get them into trouble as they got older. So after months of ineffective time-outs and lots or raised voices, i realized that I was going about this as an observer who had no control of the situation. It would happen, i would discipline with a time-out or verbal reprimand and the next second, minute, or day, it would happen again.I needed to put my expertise as a behavior analyst into practice and do a full-out behavior plan on their butts.
I named the target behavior 'physical aggression' and defined it as "kicking, hitting, and biting" which were their behaviors of choice. I then observed the target behavior and was able to identify that the function was sometimes attention, sometimes access to a preferred item or activity, and sometimes was just the 'go to' behavior because it had become second nature to just get physical when things didn't go their way. I had the both boys aggressing against each other so frequently that I felt like i was watching animal planet.
So, once I identified the functions of their behavior, I then had to implement a consequence for each function while making sure the other sibling did not reinforce it. I observed and waited patiently until lo and behold someone got physical. I then stated "no getting physical, no hitting, kicking or biting - time-out". Then I would pick up the perp, plop him in time-out while holding the victim and giving him all of my attention. I didnt speak to or discuss the crime with the perp, though sometimes i had to stand with my back to him and block him from running away from time-out. (time out occurred in a chair placed in the corner of the kitchen away from the tv and other reinforcers) I would set a timer for the age of the perp and then when time-out was over i would hold the two boys next to each other and say "no hitting, kicking, or biting. You can't get physical or you get a consequence". Then we would hug-it-out and be on our way. Now this happened if the aggression came because of attention issues. If aggression happened because the perp wanted access to a toy the victim had, the time-out would still happen and while in time-out the victim would get to keep the toy that was taken from him and after the time-out he would get to keep the toy and I would say the same thing but add a "now you can't have the toy for ______minutes because you got physical." I would then wait the allotted amount of time and when it was his turn I would prompt an appropriate exchange. If the baby took a toy from older brother he would only have to say the name of the toy (ex: car) and then i would have him hold his hand out and older brother had to place it in his hand. He often didn't want to so i would physically prompt older brother to hand it over even if he didnt want to. I would then praise them both.
When i realized that the boys became physical because of being sick of each other, I used antecedent manipulations (arranged the environment so that they had time apart doing separate activities at least once per day so that they were less likely to get physical due to being sick of each other). There were days that this wasn't enough and i would see them escalating and i would intercede with some separate activity and reinforce them for the less severe behavior. Ex: set up one with coloring and one with playdoh and say something like "i know you need time alone. Don't get physical just say you need a break" and then we would switch activities after a few minutes.
This was a full-time job for what seemed like forever, but really i was able to get control of the situation after a week or so. I'm sure if I was supermom i could have gotten it quicker but i had other stuff going on too. I did devote a good part of each day on discipline during that period of time, but it was worth it because my three older kids dont hit each other anymore. The baby is a different story, she calls herself baby and her pimp hand is strong. She occasionally hit and throw things and thinks everything is hers. Now I'm all old and tired and dont have the energy to run a plan on her, but her days are surely numbered.