Toddler Biting and Hitting

Toddler biting and hitting is not uncommon and it is very upsetting for parents. Clearly, it is unacceptable behavior and you need to teach toddlers that biting and hitting will not be tolerated.

This page has information about how to manage your child if he is biting or hitting as well as providing a link to a helpful resource.

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What if my toddler hits or bites an adult?

So, if your infant or toddler bites or hits you or another adult, make it clear that it is not appropriate. To stop toddlers biting or hitting:

  • Try not to react with a squeal or anything that might make your child think it is a game. If they get a response they think is funny, they will only try it again.
  • Tell your toddler "no, we don't bite (hit); be nice". If it is a small bite or hit, that should be enough.
  • If it is a more serious bite or hit, then give your toddler time out as well. Make it clear that the bite or hit has resulted in the time out.
  • If your toddler has a habit of hitting or kicking redirect his actions, so say "hands are for helping people not hitting" or "feet are for walking not kicking"
  • If you see your child about to hit or bite, distract them or take hold of their hand to stop them

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What if my toddler bites or hits another child?

If your toddler hits or bites another child, follow a similar pattern:

  • Tell your toddler "no, we don't hit (bite); be nice". If it is a small bite or hit, that should be enough. Redirect with " we use hands for helping not hitting"
  • If it is a more serious bite or hit, then give your toddler time out as well. Make it clear that the bite or hit has resulted in the time out.
  • Promote empathy so say "How do you think it feels to be hit. Let's see if he is alright."
  • Ideally, prevent your toddler from biting or hitting in the first place. If you see your toddler about to launch his jaws into some unsuspecting child or adult or raising his hand, say "be nice" and distract him.

    Take his hand if he is about to hit. Put your hand over his mouth if he looks as if he's about to bite (palm taut so there's nothing to bite into). Don't make a fuss of this because you don't want this to become a game.

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Should I bite or hit my child back?

No, that is not necessary and it not good role-modelling. Just make it very clear that it is unacceptable behavior. Ensure your toddler knows you are not happy - give all the right messages. Both your body language and what you say should be conveying "I'm not happy".

The next time you see your child playing happily and not biting or hitting, make sure you make a fuss and say how nicely he is playing and how happy you are to see that.

That positive reinforcement combined with the displeasure with the biting or hitting should be enough to encourage your toddler to quit that behavior.

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What if another child bites or hits my toddler?

That is a bit more difficult because you don't want to condone toddler biting or hitting but you don't want your child bullied. The first time, it's probably best just to comfort your child and tell them that biting / hitting is not good.

If one particular child continues to bite or hit your child, you might want to encourage your child to stand up for himself. That usually stops a bully.

The important message for your toddler biting and hitting are not acceptable.

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If you have a problem with toddler biting, hitting or kicking, you may want to buy a multimedia CD called "Play Nicely" which has shown to help parents in managing aggressive behavior in their children.
Click here for more details

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References

  • Toddler Taming. Dr Christopher Green. Doubleday. 2001. ISBN:1 86471 053 5
  • Scholer SJ et al. A multimedia program helps parents manage childhood aggression. Clinical Pediatrics. Nov 2006. 45 (9): 835-840

Go to the top of the Toddler Biting and Hitting page, click here

To go the the "Play Nicely" information and order page, click here 

To go to the main Behavior problem page, click here

To return to the Home page, click here


Last reviewed on 2 June 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.



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