Logical Consequences to Stop Kids Hitting and Biting

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What to do when your child hits or bites and how to prevent it in the future. This isn’t something you have to wait for your child to outgrow!

Grumpy child

No one wants their child to hit or bite another child. It can be quite embarrassing to have your child hurt another child.

If your child is hitting or biting siblings, it is not embarrassing but it is just as frustrating.

A reader asked:

Hitting and biting, we are still dealing with some of these behaviors on occasion and I can’t figure out why. We never spank, our almost 2 year old son is never around other kids that hit, he just gets mad sometimes or thinks it’s funny and he will hit or bite.

As a parent, this can be a hard situation to handle. For one thing, no one wants to be the parent with the child who hits or bites other children. You feel bad.

There are a couple of areas we need to look to solve this issue.

One is what do we do when this situation occurs. Another is what do we do to prevent this from happening in the future.

Let’s first take the what to do when it happens question.

What To Do When Your Child Hits or Bites

Of my four kiddos, I have had one “hitter.” That was Kaitlyn.

She only (to my knowledge) ever hit Brayden. He was never a completely innocent party.

But, to me, it doesn’t matter how provoked you are to do something; it isn’t okay to hit others–at least in the realm of the world of what my little toddler was experiencing.

I don’t care if your brother can be bossy, you don’t hit.

You might remember that when you are assessing how to apply a logical consequence for an action, you think about what was being abused.

As I think through what is being abused in the situation of hitting or biting, it is another person.

So for Kaitlyn, if she hit Brayden, she was not allowed to play with him anymore.

The length of time she had to stay separate from him varied on her age. It wasn’t ever longer than until after the next sleep period. So if she hit him in the morning, she could play with him after her next nap.

This actually worked quite well.

Brayden and Kaitlyn loved playing with each other, and since Kaitlyn was usually hitting because Brayden was being too bossy and wouldn’t let her have a say, it gave him the motivation to not be so bossy because he wanted to be able to play with her.

It also gave her the motivation to control her temper and not hit him so she could continue to play.

They had to figure out how to play with each other without bossing and without lashing out if they wanted to continue to play with each other.

So for me, no matter the age, hitting and biting leads to immediate isolation.

The length of time for that isolation is dependent upon the age of the child.

When your child hits or bites, swoop in immediately and let your child know the behavior was not acceptable.

This doesn’t mean you have to yell or scream or call him names. None of those actions are good ideas.

Empathy can be quite effective, “That is too bad you hit Jimmy! Now we can’t play with him anymore today. We will have to go now” (or “You will have to sit on the chair next to me while the other children play).”

But when it comes to certain situations, I would be more firm and less empathetic. Like if Brayden hit one of his sisters or Kaitlyn hit McKenna as a baby, I would be more firm.

Again, no yelling, but I would be with that child as fast as I am with eating freshly baked cookies….although I wouldn’t look so pleased.

It would be a no-nonsense sweep that would go something like this, “That is a no. You do not hit a baby. You will now go sit on the couch until ______. That is absolutely not okay.”

And they would know by the look on my face and the tone of my voice that they had just messed up big time.

I must also point out, though, that you need to always be in tune and take each situation case by case.

My blanket thought on how I would react is as I just described, but the one time I was faced with a similar situation, the reaction was quite different.

Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper. Stay calm–but that doesn’t mean you can’t be firm.

>>>Read: How To Handle an Aggressive Toddler

Parents often wonder what to do when their child hits or bites other children and they are out doing something fun.

Maybe you are enjoying talking to the other moms at the park. Maybe your other child is playing quite nicely and you don’t want to punish her just because her sister is being aggressive.

Do not let the hitting or biting slide. Even when you are out having fun.

If you don’t want to leave right away, at least require your child to sit on your lap or sit on the grass next to you. No toys. No friends.

You might also ask a friend to watch your other child while you take the hitter to the car and sit in it for a bit for a time out.

>>>Read: How To Use Time-Out Effectively

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How To Prevent Hitting and Biting in the Future

While isolation might serve as a deterrence for hitting and biting, I don’t think it will always solve it forever.

The isolation is telling your child the behavior is not okay, but I don’t think it alone will completely stop the behavior in the future.

So the next step it to try to identify why the child is being aggressive.

Think through the following question:

  • Under what circumstances does the child hit or bite? Is it if she doesn’t get her way? Is it if he can’t communicate what he wants to? Is it really only happening when he is tired?

Try to identify the motivation behind the aggression.

I knew for Kaitlyn it was when Brayden was being overbearing in the playing situation.

Once you have identified why, you need to figure out how to remove this why from your child’s life if possible.

If your child only hits when she is tired, make sure you do not have play dates or stay at the park over nap time.

If she gets aggressive when she is hungry, try giving her a snack before playing with others.

Back when sweet Kaitlyn was a hitter, I first talked to Brayden about it and explained why she was hitting him and what he could do about it.

I then talked with Kaitlyn about why it wasn’t okay to hit. I told her that it hurt people and that it didn’t show love.

I told her I knew she was hitting because she was mad, but that didn’t make it okay. I explained that even if we are very mad, we cannot hit other people.

You can never remove every frustration from the child’s life, so you have to teach the child what to do instead of hitting and biting. Give her coping mechanisms.

I think it is also vitally important that you don’t make excuses for your child. Don’t blame the child’s action on another child and don’t apologetically tell a parent, “he is just so tired!” while you do nothing about it.

You can apologize and have him do the same, but don’t be making excuses. That will teach him that his behavior is justifiable and that he is not responsible for it.

Back to teaching the child what to do instead. I instructed Kaitlyn that if Brayden was making her very mad that she should come talk to me about it instead of hitting.

For some people, it won’t be as cut and dry as it was with Kaitlyn. She was hitting in isolated instances and only one person. It was an easy mystery to solve.

It also helps that she has always been an excellent communicator who is quite eloquent for her age, so she could fill me in on her feelings quite well.

Some of you might have a child who hits or bites seemingly randomly and out of the blue. This will be a harder case to crack.

All I can say is to study and pray. Analyze the situation. Maybe even keep a log.

He hit Suzie today completely unprovoked. What was the circumstance? How had meals gone that day? How had sleep gone?

Is he getting too much unsupervised time in the day? How long had he been playing with Suzie? Maybe he can only handle interaction with other children for a certain amount of time before he needs a break.

Take note of the instances and you will likely see some sort of pattern emerge.

In my experience, hitting or biting usually happens more if:

  1. the child is tired or hungry
  2. the child is overstimulated in some way (this can include too much playtime)
  3. the child is trying to communicate and is unable to
  4. the child is frustrated with another child or person.

So to combat these simply, you would:

  1. keep the child well-rested and on regular meals
  2. keep playtimes short and activities appropriate
  3. help child learn to sign and say simple words (Read: The Screaming Non-Verbal Baby/Toddler)
  4. try to teach child to control anger while doing what you can to have other children share and play nicely.
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Conclusion

This isn’t an easy process. You will not solve this in a day, week, or even month.

It is going to take time and patience on your part. By the time Kaitlyn was 3, Kaitlyn no longer hit.

There were times when she was super frustrated and she would scream a blood-curdling scream, which is preferable to hitting, but still not my ultimate solution to solve conflict. So we still had work to do after the hitting stopped.

Keep working at it and you will get there!

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This post originally appeared on this blog in August 2010

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12 thoughts on “Logical Consequences to Stop Kids Hitting and Biting”

  1. I was happy to see this post because this is something I'm dealing with right now. The only difference, however, is that my son is hitting adults, not kids (at least not yet). So far, he has hit me and my husband as well as my mom (the dog too). He seems to do it when he is frustrated, but sometimes I don't have a clue why he hits. As far as understanding why he hits and trying to eliminate the reason, I don't know what to do. One example of a time he may hit is when I try to hand him over to daddy. He loves his daddy, but he is on a real mommy kick right now an sometimes will snub daddy. A few times, he has taken it as far as swatting at daddy's face. How can I stop that? I can't just let him have his way and not give him to daddy.Sometimes he hits for seemingly no reason at all. If I'm holding him and I look at his face and make eye contact for too long, he swats.Here is the scenario: Right after he hits, our innate reaction is to gently grab his hand away from our face. But, he doesn't always just swat once…he will continually swat and with both hands. So you are trying to protect your face, tell him No and isolate him in the playpen all while he is swatting at your face. In addition, our "reaction" of trying to get him to stop sometimes makes him laugh. He is the kind of baby that loves to get any reaction out of you he can. The more you tell him no, the more he laughs and does things again. That's bad enough when he is pulling on the curtains, but it's really awful with the hitting.So by the time you get him in the playpen, it feels like so much just happened and you aren't even sure he heard you saying "No we don't hit" let alone understood what you meant and the "hitting" was the action he had just taken. Once in the playpen, he does cry because he doesn't want to be isolated, but I really don't think he realizes that it is because of what he just did. (By the way, he is 16 months old, so the talking to and reasoning with you mention in your post, really won't work here).I am basically at the end of my rope. This has been going on for a while. We've also tried to teach him "gentle" as well (rubbing his arm or face softly while saying the word.) He just hasn't gotten it.I would really love some suggestions. Everything you mention in your post sounds good, but none are really relevant to my exact situation. You were able to tell Kaitlyn that as a result of hitting, she no longer was able to play with Brayden. How can I apply such punishment in our situation?

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  2. Lisa, when I worked in a daycare I had a problem with a one-year-old little boy who was hitting another child. You said your boy "is the kind of baby that loves to get any reaction out of you he can." It was the same for this boy. What worked with for him was to watch him when he was playing and give lots of positive attention when he was doing well so he wouldn't need to hit to receive attention from me. I would minimize the attention he gets when he hits as much as possible.

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  3. Lisa, My son sounds exactly like yours and we have dealt with it in a similar manner. I always noticed that it was worse if he was over tired or overstimulated. Avoiding the triggers helps but you can't always and they need the opportunity to learn. I would say a firm No, grab his arms and gently rub them on my cheeks (or whoever he was hitting as he sometimes hit his baby brother too) and say gentle several times. He sometimes thought was a fun alternative to hitting but if he didn't comply, he went right to time out. We always used the word time out firmly several times when he was in time out so that he would begin to make that connection and before he got out of time out I would grab his hands and rub them on my face again and say gentle again. I'd also say "are you going to obey?" He's two now and still has some offenses but he immediately shows me gentle and says "Obey". It may take time of consistency. The problem I am having now is what to do with bedtime discipline issues. Jumping up and down instead of laying down to sleep. He only does this for his naps but I can't put him in timeout before nap, that will only delay naptime!

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  4. Thanks for the comments. I'm working hard to be consistent and I've taken the advice about the repetition of the words "time out" and also asking "are you going to obey?" when taking him out. I guess time will tell.

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  5. Hi Lisa,A few ideas:when you give him to Daddy and he hits Daddy, I would take him back and say, "That is a no. You do not hit." I would then go put him in a playpen to have a time out. Use a timer so if he cries, he sees that the timer, not his crying, gets him out. Be sure to keep your emotions even. Don't act hurt, mad, or happy. Just be firm but without emotions.McKenna is 16 months old, and I am positive she would understand that when she hit and went in isolation, it would be because of the hitting. I would continue to teach him "gently." Do it when he isn't mad. So when you are playing, touch him gently and say, "gently." When he is happily petting the dog, say "gently" and demonstrate gently.One point on the dog issue, my vet once told me to never discipline a child in front of the dog because you don't want the dog thinking it is okay to get mad at the child–you want the dog to respect the child. I haven't thought much about it, but just thought I would mention it to you. When he hits the dog, I would pick him up and carry him out of the room away from the dog immediately. I could also post this as a "help a reader out" question if you would like. Let me know if you want me to. If so, I will run it this Saturday.

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  6. Thanks for the advice. I will also pay attention to not disciplining him in front of the dog. That is actually becoming more and more of a problem everyday (him going after the dog). It's also okay with me to post this in the "help a reader out" section.

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  7. Okay, I have set it up to post on Saturday. Hopefully someone out there will have some past experience to share with you!

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  8. Hi, I have to say I love your blog and it has been my bible throughout this past 10 months with my daughter. I would love any suggestions on handling my 10 month old daughter, biting while nursing. It just started and it may relate to her getting her top teeth, but it is making nursing incredibly difficult. She bit me almost every feeding today and I pulled away, put my finger over her mouth and said "no biting" and "that hurts mommy", which in turn made her giggle. Her giggle is so cute that I almost laughed too but luckily didn't. I'm not sure how to deal with this, considering the time out, but not sure if she is too young for it. Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Tori, As soon as you start feeling she is going to bite you give her a firm warning "no biting". If she still does it, then pull her off nursing and tell her no more nursing if she is going to bite. try to keep a firm face and do not laugh or smile at her giggles and repeate that it is not ok to bite. Then you might give her a new chance but warn her that if she bites then no more milk from mommy. And follow up with it. if she still do it after 3 times then you should wait for a longer period before you try to nurse her again. Make that period longer every time so that she understand you are serious about it. You can even do the experiment when you now she doesn't realy need it (not too hungry) that way you don't feel bad if you stop the nursing all together for that hour or so. Hope this helps. Lala Johnson

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  10. I have a 17 month old who has been biting for the last month. He typically bites myself or dad when he wants down or out of a situation or sometimes it's out of the blue. He knows the words down and up so it's not a communication issue. For a while when we would say no for whatever reason (going too close to the stairs or the dog food) he would look at me, shake his head no and walk away, so I know he knows the meaning of the word. But now when I say no biting to whisk him away from the situation he laughs. We tried being super positive with his positive behavior, putting him in isolation, saying a firm no but to no avail. He even bit his 3 year old cousin when playing when she was in his way. I felt terrible. He seems to be becoming very aggressive besides biting too and I'm afraid to let him play around other kids. Up to this point he's been a by the book babywise baby so this really threw me for a loop. The only thing I can think is that he's just now getting some teeth that most babies have by 17 months and that he's really teething hard? I'm grabbing at straws here b

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  11. My daughter is almost 4 years old. If another child hits her first, and then she hits that child back in turn, what should my response be? I've been giving her a time out and telling her to come tell me about it instead of hitting back. The other child has a tendency to be aggressive with my daughter, and my daughter doesn't hit other kids. I want to teach my daughter to stand up for herself, but I also don't want to condone hitting. Thanks!

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  12. That is definitely a hard situationShannon. That is a dilemma that extends into older kids (especially for boys). It sounds like you are around this child often. If it is a situation where there is another adult in charge, I would talk to this adult about what can be done to stop the other child from hitting your child. If it is a friends child or a family members child, it can be tricky. I wouldn't leave them to play unsupervised. If he hits her, I would jump in right away and ask him not to hit her and separate them for a time. You can model to her how to ask someone to stop and to remove herself from the situation. It will also assure her that she isn't alone to deal with him. It is likely the hitting is the only way she can get him to stop. I wouldn't allow her to hit him. I would teach her other ways to respond, but like I said I wouldn't leave her to deal with it alone.

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