Simple Ways to Stop Your Child Spitting

unhappy child

Child spitting is unpleasant, unhygienic, and a great way to get a big reaction from an adult.

While it’s common behaviour, especially in younger children, it can be hugely embarrassing as a parent and something you’ll want your child to stop as quickly as possible.

Why do young children spit?

Spitting is a sensory experience for very young children. It feels strange, and they enjoy experimenting to learn what their body can do. This sort of experimentation is about sensory exploration rather than emotions.

However, they can also use spitting as a way to tell you something is wrong. Young children find it difficult to communicate their needs and wants because their language skills haven’t fully developed.

They often spit to express powerful emotions like frustration and anger, or to get your attention.

toodler struggling with strong emotions

Younger children can also use spitting as a form of self-defence. It’s a way to keep another child from taking a toy they’re playing with, or to make a sibling move away from them.

They may spit if they feel trapped by an adult in the corner of a room, or if they’re being held and can’t escape. 

What about child spitting in older children?

As children grow up, they develop the complex language skills needed to express their emotions. However, some will still spit when they feel overwhelmed with anger or frustration. They may see it as better behaviour than hitting out or other physical reactions. 

Older children may use spitting as an act of defiance against you or someone in authority, as it’s seen as socially unacceptable. Spitting is great for getting your attention. 

Your child may also spit because they want to appear cool or fit in with a group of their peers. As footballers and other sporting heroes spit, they may think it’s normal behaviour.

How to cope with child spitting

Often, our first reaction to spitting is disgust. You might shout at your child for behaving that way. These sorts of big reactions give your child negative attention that could encourage them to continue the behaviour. 

Instead, stay calm and talk in a normal voice without shouting. Take some time to calm down first if you’re feeling angry. Use a simple, short sentence to tell them that spitting is not acceptable, rather than a long lecture. 

If your child spits regularly, think about a consistent way that you and other adults in your child’s life will respond:

  • Don’t spit back, spank, or respond physically to your child. This can teach them that physical behaviour is acceptable.
  • Get them to help clear it up.
  • Have an agreed consequence that will always happen if they choose to spit. 
  • Teach them ways to calm down when they start feeling angry, like deep breathing or counting.
  • Praise them when they use other strategies when they are feeling angry rather than spitting.

If your older child is spitting, look for the reason behind this behaviour. Are they looking for more attention from you, or struggling to manage their feelings?

This can help you decide the most appropriate way to respond.

Increases in child spitting and other challenging behaviour

child starting school

Challenging behaviour like spitting often becomes more frequent if your child is feeling stressed or worried. It can be a sign that they need some additional emotional support from you.

This could include:

Instead of focusing on the behaviour, look at the reasons behind it. Could there be something worrying your child?

Talk to them about it. You could say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been spitting a lot recently. That makes me think there’s something worrying or upsetting you.” Be open and ready when they feel ready to talk about it. 

Find out more 

If you get big reactions, like spitting, when you ask your child to do things, you’ll find plenty of support in our free video series, called The Ask.

You’ll learn why your child responds this way with lots of practical ideas you can use to get everyone in the family talking and listening to each other respectfully. Find out more about The Ask.