Kicking is defined as any occurrence of using the foot/feel or leg/legs to make contact with any part of another person’s body (Dalphonse, 2020). Kicking can vary in terms of the force that is used such that the contact makes a sound or causes injury that can range in severity from a minor injury (e.g. mark) to major injury (e.g. lacerations).


Almost all children have displayed kicking behaviour in the early stages of development (up to five years of age). A child may kick a caregiver because they have taken away their toy, kick a peer who is sitting on their chair or kick a child who is simply sitting in front of them.


When children mature, they develop appropriate ways of communicating their needs, interacting with others, problem-solving, coping with their emotions and controlling their behaviours, which helps them outgrow the kicking behaviour.


Some children, however, continue to kick, which can be distressing for others to witness. When kicking becomes persistent and chronic, it can cause negative consequences for the child and everyone else involved.


The person who gets kicked has a painful experience that can leave them feeling worried that it might happen again, while the parents of the child who was kicked can be angry that their child got hurt and be anxious about their child’s safety. The parents of the child who kicks may feel embarrassed, annoyed at their child and anxious about how others will treat their child. The child may get labelled as ‘the kicker’ and others may become wary of the child. Parents have to adapt their life to avoid triggering the child and limit the child’s access to the community due to the child’s behaviour.

When a child begins to persistently exhibit kicking behaviours, the climate of the context (e.g. childcare, preschool, kindergarten, school, disability support and youth service) can change dramatically. A considerable amount of time and energy can be spent on the child showing the kicking behaviour, which can have a deleterious effect on the quality of the educational experience for all children. Research consistently shows that managing behaviour is linked to staff experiencing high levels of stress, burnout, and job dissatisfaction.

Example 1:

Ms Smith is having trouble with nine-year-old Tommy, a child in her class. He often kicks other children in the class, and when Ms Smith tries to put him in timeout, he screams in her face, swears and calls her names. After ten minutes of timeout, Ms Smith approaches Tommy and tries to explain why his behaviour was wrong, but Tommy pretends he can’t hear her. After one timeout session, Tommy tries to explain his behaviour by saying that other children in the classroom were trying to trip him over, but Ms Smith knows that the kicking started after another student accidentally pushed his chair out as Tommy was walking past. Tommy has been in timeout so often in the last few weeks that he has missed many class activities, and his behaviour has caused other children to not want to sit near him. When Ms Smith calls Tommy’s parents into the classroom to discuss his behaviour, his mother shouts at and threatens him.


Hence, kicking behaviour affects everyone involved and the child who is kicking requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.



Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underlying causes of behaviours of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.

PBS recognises that there is no single cause for kicking behaviour. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.

 Kicking behaviour is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem.

 There are three main setting-related factors which impact the child and their behaviour:

  • environment
  • activity, and
  • interaction.

 These factors place different demands on the child and when any of these demands outweigh the child’s skills to cope with them, the child engages in kicking behaviour. Kicking may be the only way the child has learnt how to respond to these demands and get their message across.


Elijah is participating in a group assignment in his classroom. It is very noisy as there are lots of groups working on their assignments. Elijah finds noise annoying and compounding his annoyance is him needing to work with others in a group. He does not have the patience or interest to listen to other children’s point of view. He feels he knows all the answers and the group should just listen to his ideas and follow his guidance. When Elijah shares his ideas, Isaac who is sitting opposite to him laughs out loud and says, ‘That’s the worst idea I have ever heard.’ Some of the skills needed to cope with this interaction include:

  • Communication skills – Does Elijah have the skills to express his feelings (e.g. I am feeling annoyed because of the noise) and his needs (e.g. Is it OK if we work in the library where it’s a bit quieter?)
  • Emotional regulation – Can Elijah regulate his emotions and stay calm?
  • Flexibility – Can Elijah be flexible and think that others may or may not agree with his ideas?
  • Handle criticism – Can Elijah receive criticism in a constructive manner or does he get defensive?
  • Moral norms – Does Elijah know the difference between right vs wrong or appropriate vs inappropriate behaviour?
  • Impulse control – Can Elijah control his impulse of wanting to kick Isaac?
  • Social skills – Does Elijah know why it is not OK for him to kick Isaac?
  • Conflict resolution – Does Elijah know how to work with Isaac towards a solution to the problem or dispute?

As Elijah does not have the skills needed to cope, he resorts to kicking Isaac in the shin under the table with such force that Isaac squealed in pain.

 The example highlights that kicking behaviour is not without purpose. It is never too late to address kicking behaviour, even if it has been occurring for a while.

 Developing a comprehensive and individualised PBS plan to address the kicking behaviour involves three stages: Assess-Manage-Prevent.

  • ASSESS: How to identify the reasons that contribute to the kicking behaviour,
  • MANAGE: How to respond when kicking behaviour occurs, and
  • PREVENT: How to minimise or eliminate the occurrence of kicking behaviour.


Assess Stage Aims

The Assess stage helps to identity:

  • Activities during which the kicking behaviour occurs,
  • Environments in which the kicking behaviour occurs, and
  • People dealing with the kicking behaviour.

Assess Stage Checklist:

  • Child’s profile – Gather information about the child to create a comprehensive picture of the child, their abilities and needs.
  • Behaviour data collection forms – Record measurable details (e.g. frequency, intensity, duration) about the child’s kicking
  • Functional Behaviour Analysis (FBA)- Systematically reflect on an incident by analysing the antecedents (what preceded the kicking behaviour), describing the kicking behaviour, consequences (what happened after the kicking behaviour).
  • Hypothesis – Determine the purpose (function) that the kicking behaviour served.


Manage Stage Aims

The Manage Stage outlines how to effectively respond to the behaviours that occur before the kicking and after. Appropriate responses can help to safely defuse, redirect, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

Manage Stage Checklist:

  • Escalation stages – Help those supporting the child to recognise the number of stages the child exhibits as their emotion rises (i.e. mild escalation, moderate escalation, extreme escalation, and recovery stage).
  • Escalation profile– Help those supporting the child to recognise what non-verbal and/or verbal behaviours are exhibited in the different escalation stages, where the kicking behaviour occurs in the escalation and how long it can last.
  • De-escalation plan – Help those supporting the child with guidelines on how to immediately respond when the behaviour occurs, safely defuse, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.


Prevent Stage Aims

This stage aims to minimise the occurrence of the kicking by reducing or avoiding the triggers that cause it and teach the child alternative behaviours.

Prevent Stage plan

The plan details strategies to minimise or avoid the triggers that contribute to the kicking behaviours by providing the child with:

  • Supportive environments – Tailoring environment related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of kicking
  • Supportive activities – Tailoring activity related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of kicking
  • Supportive interactions – Tailoring interaction aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of kicking behaviour, and
  • Teaching the child – Teaching the student positive ways of communicating their messages and managing their emotions and behaviours.



Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in K for Kicking: Positive Behaviour Support guide to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.

This invaluable guide is useful for parents, caregivers, educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals.