Behavior & Environment

How to Handle Toddler Biting and Hitting

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Almost every caregiver has dealt with a toddler that bites or hits. It’s a common phase and, at that age, developmentally appropriate. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. It’s hard in the moment and sometimes harder when you have to explain to a parent why their child was bitten or hit in your care. So what can you do?

1. Set a STRONG limit around biting and hitting

The phrase “I won’t let you bite or hit” is popular with respectful parenting; however, the reality is the child often does the deed before you can stop it. Alternatively, the phrase “Biting and hitting are never okay” sends a clear and consistent message. However you phrase it, you want to let all the kids know hurting other kids is strictly against the rules.

2. Observe the offending child to learn what situations and feelings are most likely to trigger an incident.

When you can predict the bite or hit, you can physically intervene by putting your hand or body between the two children or increasing the space between the children.

3. Often, the biter/hitter is expressing anger, frustration, or other big emotions at the time of the incident.

Acknowledge these emotions and redirect the child towards other activities that allow them to express themselves safely. Don’t tamp down the emotions, channel them.

4. Don’t give too much attention to the situation as a whole.

Of course, you want to acknowledge the experience for the child that has been bitten or hit, however, don’t shower them with exaggerated sympathy or lecture the biter/hitter thinking it will teach the biter/hitter a lesson. It won’t and will instead lead to resentment. The child knows it was a bad choice, but their emotions overtook their decision-making (remember where they are in their development). Later, when things are calm, you can work on helping the child learn how to handle those emotions differently the next time.

The biting and hitting phase is never a fun one, and it can be overwhelming when you’re in it. Consistent limits and a calm reaction will help you move through it.