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!
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
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:
- the child is tired or hungry
- the child is overstimulated in some way (this can include too much playtime)
- the child is trying to communicate and is unable to
- the child is frustrated with another child or person.
So to combat these simply, you would:
- keep the child well-rested and on regular meals
- keep playtimes short and activities appropriate
- help child learn to sign and say simple words (Read: The Screaming Non-Verbal Baby/Toddler)
- try to teach child to control anger while doing what you can to have other children share and play nicely.
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!
Related Posts on This Blog
- Two Things You Can Do To Avoid Yelling At Your Kids
- 10 Guidelines for Using Logical Consequences
- Logical Consequences for Throwing Toys
- Consequences: Natural VS Logical and How to Use Each
- Making Sure Consequences Actually Work for Kids
This post originally appeared on this blog in August 2010
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