Toddlers often go through a biting and hitting phase, which can be worrisome for parents. If your kids are in this phase, you might be wondering why they’re so bad or if you’re doing something wrong in your parenting to bring out this aggressive behavior.
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Are Some Kids Just Bad?
Here is a reminder: biting and hitting are developmentally normal behavior. Kids are using these behaviors to communicate and explore their world. They may hit or bite to express anger, maintain control of toys, see what it feels like, or see a reaction.
Kids have limited language skills and lack impulse control. But they aren’t trying to be bad.
In her book Lisa Murphy on Being Child-Centered, Lisa shares this advice on hitting and biting, “Stop making moral issues out of developmental ones.” By doing this, she says that we can “see the behavior without the moral lens.”
Seeing hitting and biting in this light can help you keep your own anger in check and keep you from passing character judgments.
But knowing that hitting and biting are developmentally appropriate for toddlers doesn’t make them socially appropriate and certainly doesn’t mean that we should ignore them when they happen.
How to Handle Hitting and Biting:
1- Address the verb. Lisa Murphy recommends simply addressing the verb and calmly stating, “You need to do some biting. People are not for biting. Come, let’s find you something you can bite.” (Lisa Murphy on Being Child-Centered, pg 89).
This approach avoids telling the child how bad they are and doesn’t give them extra attention or a large reaction for biting or hitting. But it also doesn’t allow the behavior to continue. Kids cannot be allowed to harm others. Instead, they’re redirected and given ways to hit, bite, kick, throw, etc., that don’t cause harm.
2-Make time-specific observations. Note exactly when the hitting or biting occurred and what was happening just before. It’s essential to write this information down to begin to see patterns. Maybe you see that biting occurs when your child is hungry, tired, angry, or playing with a specific toy.
3-Stay close and be ready to intervene. If kids bite often, it will be important to use your observations to help you know when to stay close so you can intervene before they hurt someone else.
If you see them about to hit or bite, you can gently restrain them and say, “It looks like you were about to hit/bite. I can’t let you do that. People aren’t for hitting/biting.”
4-Teach and model language for managing situations. Once you have intervened and stopped the hitting or biting, you can give kids words to express themselves better. Working with kids in this way begins to teach them to find solutions.
This will include expressing their feelings and then stating their needs and desires. This helps distinguish between toddler hitting others and helps kids learn that all feelings are okay but not all actions.
You can Model Appropriate Language for Preverbal Kids.
•“You look really mad that Tom took your block. You can say, ‘I’m mad that you took my block. I’m still using that block. You may use it when I’m done.’”
•“You can say, ‘I would like a turn.’”
•“Say, ‘Move back! I need my space.’”
Avoid simply saying, “Use your words!” as this doesn’t help give young kids the words to use.
Your kids are learning and growing, and this is just a phase in their development. They’re not being mean. They’re not little monsters. Handle kids calmly and consistently, redirect, intervene, and give them the skills to better express their needs.
Laurel is an early childhood educator, parenting coach, and lover of the outdoors. She shares her knowledge and experience by writing for Kids Who Play.