How to stop your toddler from spitting

It’s been quite frustrating in this household with my toddler having learned the new trick of spitting! Which he’s been “practicing” around the house, when he’s angry, playful, upset, wants attention… You name it!

The most interesting thing is, he knows when he wants to spit he’s only supposed to spit in the sink or in the bathtub. Yet, he chooses to not follow this rule. I say he knows because when I have asked him at calm times where can you spit he says, “sheenk“.

What boggled me the most was, no one in our family spits, not even in the extended family. I am almost sure he learned that from brushing his teeth. We brush teeth together, so he learns the correct way. And he did. I was excited to see him learn to spit after brushing his teeth.

But, to my horror, he had started flaunting his newly learned skill everywhere, especially when he wanted to convey his disagreement.

I think spitting is a particularly disrespectful behavior. And, for a couple of days, I was really frustrated with it and was worried that, I am going to have to deal with this way of expression for a very long time.

Thankfully I was able to look past the spitting action and actually look into the reason why he was doing it.

I quickly realized he didn’t spit to show his disrespect, he would spit when he was playful, upset, even to express love. He was having fun with my husband, and was ecstatic and started spitting. That’s when I understood; he’s using this skill to express his feelings, happy or sad.

He did not see spitting as disrespectful, as we see it. It was just an expression for him.

In-spite, of being an innocent act; this certainly needed redirection. I was not going to let this turn into a habit. He had to be shown the societal limits. Also, I think spitting is particularly unaccepted since it can potentially spread germs very quickly.

How can we make them stop using these newly learned skills?

In the article about Psychology behind why kids don’t listen, I mentioned how important it is to acknowledge their behavior. In this case, I had to take it a step further;

You must accept them for what they are doing, to normalize the newly learned skill. It will continue to remain special, till you keep reacting to it.

By accepting it, I don’t mean accept the wrong behavior, I mean accept that it’s a newly learned SKILL, and it’s a cool skill for that age. And now, you need to show him where can he practice this skill. Show them physically. Take them to the sink or outside or bathtub, whatever is your house rule.

My son knew spitting is only for the sink because I kept repeating it to him verbally every time he spits, but he kept on practicing his new skill everywhere and I kept saying “you can’t spit here, spitting is for sink”.

Until I accepted his desire to spit, and what changed the game for us is; whenever he needed to spit I would take him to sink and we would have fun with it.

Every time he began spitting, I would say; “ You want to practice spitting? Let’s go to the sink”. We both would go to the sink together, he would spit in the sink for 4-5 times, then we came back to the play area, if he started spitting again, I would take him back to the sink, and he would spit again for maybe 2 more times. And that was it, he didn’t want to spit again.

Then he totally forgot about spitting and didn’t spit at all, it was almost an instant solution for me. Since we had been struggling with this for about 4 days, I was ecstatic.

About 2 days later, he was upset since I had to nurse my little one, and he spit again once. I told him; “You can’t spit when you are angry. Do you want to go to the sink and spit?” His answer was “No!”. But that was it.

He still spits to express his emotion of anger, but he spits once, and I remind him he can’t just spit everywhere and he stops after one incident. And this happens once every 3-4 days.

What did I do wrong initially?

I wasn’t clear enough until I physically showed him what I meant.

I never gave my son an ultimate warning since we don’t have punishments in the house, so there was no, “ if you spit here I’ll do this or that ”. But unfortunately, for the first few days, I wasn’t clear enough with my rule either. Since I never physically took him to the sink, so spitting is for the sink was only an information for him. He didn’t really know what I meant by “spitting is for sink”.

  Toddler Spitting in Sink

I think I was too scared of his newly learned behavior and was terrified since this was particularly gross to me. Once I thought about it calmly, I was able to come up with a solution for it.

It’s all a phase for Toddlers

Most actions for toddlers last for 2 weeks at the maximum, and they learn a new skill again and are going to practice that. This does not mean they can keep testing the limits you set for them, they need to know what’s socially acceptable and what is not.

Be Patient, and remember it’s just a phase, but you can’t let it turn into a habit either. When you get into the tussle of war, it usually turns into a habit. Because when they keep saying no to something all the time, they keep remembering it, and it eventually turns into a habit. 

This was one example of my son breaking a house rule; here is a good article explaining why do kids break house rules, and how to redirect them. It could be spitting, hitting, kicking…

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