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You are here: Home > Toddlers > Parenting

Correcting Toddler Behavior - Biting, Hitting, & Throwing

by Danielle Haines | July 28, 2008 12:00 AM84 Comments

Shocking as it may be, aggressive behaviors, such as biting, hitting, and throwing things are a normal part of your toddler's development. It is a part of a child learning self-control. Usually, toddlers phase out of bad behaviors by age four. Still-emerging language skills, a fierce desire to become independent, and undeveloped impulse control make children this age prime candidates for getting physical. That doesn't mean you should ignore it, of course. Let your toddler know that aggressive behavior is unacceptable and show him other ways to express his feelings.

Biting

While it is crucial to accept the premise that biting is an age-appropriate behavior for toddlers, it is just as important to accept that biting is not an acceptable behavior. Adults must help toddlers control their urge to bite other children by responding quickly and firmly.

First, the biting child should be stopped with a firm "no!". At the same time that the adult speaks, the adult should act. Ideally, one adult steps in to help the victim while another stops the biting child. Where this is not possible, the biting child should usually be dealt with first. Discipline for toddlers is most effective when it occurs immediately after the unacceptable action. The biting child should be removed from the situation in the form of redirection of attention or time-out.

Preventing biting before it happens is better than dealing with it after it occurs. Consequently, adults should carefully observe the moods and needs of toddlers. When a child is exhibiting low tolerance for frustration, or when a child has a history of biting, or when a child is teething, adults must pay especially close attention to the potential-biting child.

Hitting

Toddlers are fascinated with what they can make happen over and over and they are also curious about how people react in different situations. Hitting people satisfies both of these interests. Furthermore, toddlers see the world only from their own point of view and therefore don't understand that other people have different ideas and feelings than they do.

Don't be afraid to let your child know you are angry. Use it as a teaching moment. You are not trying to frighten or browbeat the child into submission. You are trying to express anger constructively, so your child will know how it's managed.

1. Stop the physical aggression immediately. If your child has hit you, don't let him/her hit you repeatedly. Grip their wrist firmly, and say with equal firmness, "No hitting. You do not hit me. You can be angry, but you may not hit."

2. Expect compliance. Do not let go of the wrist until you can feel the tension leave the child. If you misjudge, and they swing at you again when you let go, repeat the step above, and hold longer. Wait for him/her to relax. Repeat your words. Keep this up for as long as it takes. Be gentle, be firm, but be unyielding.

3. When they begin to relax, praise/encourage them.

4. When the child is no longer coiled to strike, praise them again. Give, and receive, a hug with the child. This is not letting them away with it. They need to know it's all right to be angry, that they can be angry, they can express it in other ways, and that they're still loved, even if they experience anger.

5. Quickly move on to the next thing.

Remember, that just as your child has the right to expect you to treat them respectfully, you have the right to be treated respectfully by your child. If this is your consistent response, you will greatly reduce or even entirely eliminate hitting in a matter of weeks.

When Your Toddler Says "No"

Saying the word no is a necessary part of being a toddler. Kids this age are driven by the need to make their own decisions, to be autonomous, and to control their world, and the way they express these needs is through the word no. If you're the parent of a toddler, you'll hear it morning, noon, and night.
Don't try to talk your little one out of it, and don't forbid it. "No" is not optional. Kids this age can be worked with, however. If you encourage their feelings of autonomy and power, you'll lessen the number of "no's" in your family. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give your child choices so she feels a sense of control over her world. "Apple juice or carrot juice?" "Would you like me to help you into your stroller, or do you want to do it yourself?"
  • Encourage independence by letting them do things for themselves, and setting up their environment so they can. This may mean putting toys in bins, keeping cups for water on low shelves, putting stools near sinks, and generally making your home more child-friendly. Enroll your child as your assistant. Let your child be a participant in family work and she'll feel needed and powerful in her ability to help.
  • Don't expect your child to always be nice, and don't take her "no" personally. Your child is not defiant, angry, or negative-she's a toddler saying "no."

When Your Toddler Throws Things

Toddlers are delighted by cause-and-effect relationships. By dropping and throwing objects, your budding scientist is discovering gravity just as Sir Isaac Newton did some 300 years ago. Spoons clatter, cups crash, but Cheerios make almost no sound at all. Each of these revelations is magical to your little one. Part of his delight comes from being able to relive the discovery over and over. Here's what to keep in mind so you survive this stage:

He's not acting out. Your pitcher-in-training's predilection for tossing is not an act of defiance or aggression. Sometimes it's your preverbal toddler's only means of communication. An empty sippy cup thrown on the floor could mean he's still thirsty and wants more. Become attuned to what's being thrown and you might learn to better understand his needs.

You can set limits. Tell him what may and may not be thrown (balls good, food bad), and where throwing is okay, preferably outdoors and not from his high chair. Gently say "No throwing," and shake your head firmly with a serious look on your face. If he persists, tell him: "If you want to throw, I'll take you out of the high chair and we'll go in the backyard and play catch." Then follow through. As long as you're calm and consistent, he will learn.

All toddlers will exhibit all of these inappropriate behaviors, so do not feel like you are alone. Your toddler is beginning to express himself, show independence, and experiment with limits. Your job is to redirect the behavior, and show him that these bad behaviors are not appropriate and will not be tolerated. With time, patience, and by following through your toddler will eventually outgrow this phase.

Danielle Haines is a freelance writer for Baby Corner. She is currently married and has 2 girls ages 3 and 1.

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Comments


Showing 1 - 10 out of 58 Comments
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Genna May 7, 2018 05:57:01 PM ET

My son is great at daycare but, almost every night we get home he hits me and throws tantrums. i don't know what to do and feel bad because he seems to only do it to me. i show him love all the time and i am consistent in saying we don't hit when he hits me. what am i doing wrong?

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Karen Apr 18, 2018 01:41:03 PM ET

So, i'm the daycare provider(the grandmother ) of a 2 1/2 year old who constantly hits , bites, throws things and laughs all the time while he's doing it! time out does not work and there's a new brother on the way but, it seems his frustration is all with me. he lives to go for the face, and i have tried everything. never had a child do this ever! he knows i have very painful hands and wrist and he targets them. what do i do?!?! not fun at all.

Sharon May 12, 2018 02:07:23 PM ET

Also daycare provider 2 days a week for my grandson. yes he hits,bites, throws things constantly . time outs do not work with me but have been successful with others. i have watched many children as well and never experienced this with any of them or my own children. sometimes i lose it and start to cry, although i know that is not helping. it is very frustrating. glad to know others going through the same thing.

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Spesshy Nov 19, 2017 06:58:00 PM ET

I have a 19 month old baby girl that doesn't listen period, to anyone at all. she gets angry whenever she doesn't get her own way, runs and throws herself around the room, cry and scream. this behavior is just not acceptable. i'm really looking for help because everything i try just doesn't work. i don't know what else on earth to do .

Margaret Apr 7, 2018 04:19:46 PM ET

I do not know if you have received any help but, since i know how you feel as i was in a similar situation. i felt i needed to let you know what i did. i went to my boss and said i do not know what to do as a certain child (not mentioning her children) was behaving badly, i told her what the child did and asked for advice on how to handle the situation. she then said to handle it as i see fit, or put the child into a cot to protect the other children until the child has calmed down. do it every time the child is misbehaving. i did as she suggested and put her children in the cot, they screamed and i had my boss there in seconds demanding to know what is wrong, i told her i did as she suggested. she could not argue. i do not know if you want to give this a try but, it worked for me.

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Marianne Aug 31, 2017 04:52:50 PM ET

I work at a daycare with two babies, a two year old and a three year old. the two oldest are the director's kids and they have serious anger issues. they have been throwing things (big things and even one of the babies glass bottles). and some of this stuff has broke and hit me. and i've tried this stuff and it's not working at all. and i've told their mom and she just seems to baby them. and i'm afraid for the two babies in my room having two others who throw hard objects at them. what do i do because i can't have them in my class acting like that? and the mom just blamed me saying they're bored, so play with them. they aren't bored, they want to hurt people.

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Guest Aug 15, 2017 08:14:37 PM ET

What ever happened to a good spanking? i'm not talking abusive. but i learned my lesson when i grew up. and learned how to behave. the problem i see is that people want to have their cake and eat it too. don't want to discipline but what all the benefits to the discipline. i'm not advocating for barbarianism or abuse. but sometimes a spanking when other things are failing do work. we talk about things first. and we only resort to a spanking when one of the 3 family rules are broken. if you hit your sister... if you lie... and if you talk back to mom or dad. but we always talk about why there is punishment. and i do agree with a lot of what was discussed above as well. but as a last resort. a spanking has worked before. not a spanking out of anger or frustration... but under calm circumstances. just my 2 cents.

Granna Sep 16, 2017 07:10:47 PM ET

You go mom! spanking a child is what more children need to grow up respecting others. i know we are not talking about a beating but they need to know who is the boss.

Guest Oct 14, 2017 10:09:58 PM ET

My 2 year old laughs at me and spanks his own butt when spanked, for throwing things at me.

Guest Feb 2, 2018 08:08:18 AM ET

How can you teach a child that hitting is wrong by hitting them as punishment? all that teaches them is that the biggest bully wins.

Guest Mar 29, 2018 03:14:49 PM ET

No hitting a toddler who is looking for guidance. at this stage is not the answer. this article is on point. what it should have added is that changes in your child's behavior happens over time and you must be diligent and repetitive in guiding them to better behaviors. it takes time for them to change if no one has been addressing it. and you yourselves must continue to be the role model and lead by example. teach them love, kindness, and patience.

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Mumma D Aug 6, 2017 03:50:59 AM ET

My one yr old hates being told no or off when doing something he shouldn't, or if he's about to do something, & has to wait to put socks on or something . he hits and trows himself back head butting. this is so... upsetting. i'm interested in other mums/dads experiences, strategies, to see what else i can try to calm my babe!!

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Guest Jul 18, 2017 05:53:34 AM ET

18 july 2017 my 18 month old baby boy is hitting on me, throwing himself down. he got that anger. he bites his sister . to be honest ,i don't know what to do. i do try to calm him down, but he keeps on doing it.

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Hadenough Jul 15, 2017 06:23:04 PM ET

I have a 2 and a half year old that throws everything and hits. it is so bad that i can't leave him alone with my 4 year old. he throws cars at her. she has a black eye and a cut today. it makes me furious and i am having having no luck at all with the naughty step, talking, yelling, taking things away, trying to tell my daughter to stop getting to him. help me!!!!!!

Brytta Sep 25, 2018 01:42:50 PM ET

Here's an idea: keep a journal of the incidents that occur, what times of day they occur, and talk to the family doctor or your son's teacher about it.

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Ashley Jan 16, 2017 08:37:05 PM ET

Hi my son will be 2 in april.. ever since about 9months old, he started banging his head on things and head butting you thinking its funny..then the biting came .. he throws things and trys to flip big stuff over.. he flips his kid table over and tosses his kid chairs.. he throws cups and food all the time. throws toys. if he gets mad he bites and hits and pinches.. if he doesn't get his way he does.. he will just come up to me, his dad or siblings and just pinches or tries to bite you. he has very bad anger issues.. he cries alot. throws himself down, no matter where we are, if he gets mad or doesn't get what he wants. boy can go from happy to mad in seconds. he's never slept through the night. i don't know what to do. he is nursed as i want to stop. he is so demanding and mean it's just stressful, but it's coming to an end.. what could be causing all this. i had two older kids, my first marriage (8 and 5) and they never acted this way. my husbands kids (his first marriage) also never did either... he said. i'm just worrried.

Kat Jun 29, 2017 03:40:05 PM ET

This sounds like my 2 yr old perfectly. he does exactly what your little one is doing. omg it is extremely frustrating. after reading this i don't feel so alone anymore. i thought something might be wrong with him but i see now that it is normal at that age. thank you for sharing.

ValRae34 Jun 30, 2017 09:05:26 PM ET

I'm curious if you ever found anything out about your son.. this sounds identical to my own child, he is also my 3rd and i've never had any of the issues with the others. advice?

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Jen Sep 6, 2016 01:41:19 PM ET

My one year old constantly bites, hits, hurts himself whenever you take a toy away or say no. he loses his mind and gets violent. the other day he bit me and when i tried to show him i was hurt, by saying "ouch ouch.." he bit harder. it feels like he is trying to hurt me. i have seen people say to hold his wrists and tell him no, so i will keep trying that but, nothing seems to work. if he isn't hitting you then he is hitting himself. my husband and i rarely argue in front of him so, i am not sure where this is coming from.

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