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You are here: Home > Toddlers > Parenting

Correcting Toddler Behavior - Biting, Hitting, & Throwing

by Danielle Haines | July 28, 2008
55 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:

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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Showing 1 - 10 out of 44 Comments
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stephanie Nov 12, 2014 10:14:32 AM ET

My son will be 2 in march, and he is very aggressive. he will hit you over and over again no matter what you do. i have to end up putting him in his room. if he doesn't get his way or gets really mad he will throw things. not little things. he will pick up the car that he can ride on and throw it down the hallway, or try his hardest to pick up the coffee table to flip it over. he started daycare about 3 weeks ago. they say he does great. he is nice and they really have no problems out of him. but, the moment he walks in the house the storm continues. he is especially really mean to me. i'm the only person he has bitten (breaking the skin). i know this sounds really bad but sometimes i wish he could stay at daycare for just a little longer. is this wrong of me, and what can i do to help fix his aggression?

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Guest Nov 10, 2014 06:31:20 PM ET

This is all like 3 year old son's behavior. i feel like he is controlling me. i can't control him at home or in public. he is always angry, and does not listen to me. i am very sad about that.

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Guest Oct 26, 2014 02:33:46 PM ET

My boyfriend's daughter screams and screams anytime we talk to her. she breaks my kids toys and hits them. i bought her a really cute toddler bed and she broke it within a week. she is going to be 4 in december. when i'm asking her to use her words, she will scream and cry when she finally talks. she asks to go to the corner, or in her room, but that's where she wants to be all day long. i'll tell her it's meal time, and she won't come. if i make her, she screams the whole time, but will go. daycare says she's hungry and we don't feed her! she has started beating up on all the babies in daycare! what can we do?? i'm lost!!!! please help.

Guest Oct 29, 2014 04:06:16 PM ET

Have you tried not living like separate families?

Jane Nov 4, 2014 02:34:23 PM ET

I'm not sure about your take on therapy, but a few sessions with a child counselor could probably do some good. it sounds as if she has underlying hurt feelings that are being expressed through anger. see how she acts towards you when you tell her to do something vs. your boyfriend. does she listen to one of you better? if so, that one should be the one to ask her to do something until you can figure out the true issue. toddlers need to feel that they are in control, most likely she feels like she has lost that control. also try to face the fact you might be in that "you're not my mommy" phase. just keep giving her love and understanding, and she will come around. the fact that you're on this site already means your doing the best you can and you're a great parent. keep it up and good luck!

michelle Nov 4, 2014 02:39:37 PM ET

No matter how much she screams or yells keep your voice low. don't let her see that her attitude bothers you. let her know that life keeps moving on even when she wants to have hours of tantrums. she is screaming and won't come eat? you, your child, and boyfriend need to close her door and go have a peaceful meal despite her screaming. she will soon realize it is easier to be loved then to always be angry. this worked with both of my children. you need to let her know her attitude is not okay, and will not be tolerated, not my punishment, but by making her see that tantrums can't make the world revolve around her. eventually she will get bored i promise! good luck girl.

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Guest Oct 14, 2014 10:58:18 PM ET

I have a two year old. my son acts rude most times lately. i don't really know why. he kicks me, and thinks its funny. he slaps me with a sneaky look on his face. then when i try to discipline him, he gets angry and hits his head on the wall, or throws himself on the floor and smacks his head hard on the ground. i don't know what it is. might he be emotionally distressed? what might i be doing wrong? are emotional problems hereditary? or maybe he has anger issues? this is ongoing, do you think it will pass or should i dig deeper? any information would help. thanks!

Audrey Oct 18, 2014 04:22:54 PM ET

He might be testing your limits, and chances are, he's going to grow out of it. make sure you don't argue with your spouse in front of him (my son used to hit his head on the ground if we start arguing). when he gets upset and starts hurting himself just hold his wrists and don't let go until he calms down. i would also suggest playing emotion games with him. it'll help him to better express himself. i wouldn't look too deeply into though. he sounds like a normal 2 year old.

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mrs. kiser Sep 12, 2014 06:35:33 PM ET

My nephew is 2 years old and likes to pinch and hit. it is completely random and he does not act angry. he will just laugh when he does it. we tell him that hitting is mean, and he is hurting auntie. but, he does not listen. we try time outs and everything. his mommy and daddy argue a lot. i don't know if that could be a reason.

Jane Nov 4, 2014 02:27:29 PM ET

My son is now 3. at 13 months he began doing the same thing, pinching hitting etc. make sure to show him that it really does hurt you. when my son would pinch me i wouldn't gently cry in front of him so he knows he is making mom or in your case a family member sad. although kids act out they still do aim to please.

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NadiBum1175 Aug 26, 2014 01:55:49 PM ET

I have a brother who is 2, and he's driving me insane. i love him a lot, but he throws things at me and scratches me in my face. he wont hug me, but hug the rest of the family. i don't know what i've done wrong, but i wish that he would be a lovable little bro. he only hugs me and says sorry when i "cry". lol

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Guest Jun 14, 2014 08:56:46 PM ET

My grandson, 13 months old, is acting out by hitting my chihuahua when i give her attention while he's around. i do believe it to be jealousy. what can i do to make him more accepting of her?! all she tries to do is love on him and lick him. thanks!

Guest Jun 18, 2014 07:50:21 AM ET

Try having him take care of her with you. brush her together, have him give treats, etc. it worked when for my son and pups when both were dealing with jealousy.

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Guest Mar 28, 2014 08:26:34 PM ET

I think this article is a crock of shit. you're telling me if he throws his food then give him the option to go outside and play catch. isn't that all they wanna do anyways. this will just teach them to throw their food at every meal so they can go upside and play. and how can you tell a two year old "don't hit." you can get angry but you can't hit? this is crazy. what two year old will understand this. if this is the way we are supposed to raise our children then i'm afraid of the future. just imagine my son's generation or even the next. our country will be protected by people who don't believe in consequences. just imagine a drill sergent in boot camp yelling at a recruit and the recruit crying saying, "you can't yell at me." our country will certainly be taken over by a country who actually disciplines there children and there won't be anything we can do about it but cry.

bre Jul 17, 2014 02:39:41 AM ET

Rude and wrong all at the same time! not sure what your kids are like, but most two year olds i know can understand when you say, "do not hit me." they're toddlers, not idiots. and how does discussing toddler behavior turn into a "that's what's wrong with our country" rant?

Jane Nov 4, 2014 02:47:27 PM ET

Come on people were parents. it takes a village to raise a child. i'm not sure how your comment got posted with curse words, but it is not necessary everyone is allowed there opinion. let's all act like the good, mature parents we are.

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Guest Oct 18, 2013 02:54:56 AM ET

I babysit my 3 year old niece now i have my 1 and half years old niece and 6 month old niece living with me. my 3 year old niece has never shared our attention an now she's hitting biting and mean. we have not changed how we treat her yet nothing is working. she's mean and tries to hurt the other girls. we've tried everything to reassure her shes still special yet she's gotten even worse. we don't know what to do she has really hurt the other girls where we wont leave them alone. we're scared she will seriously hurt one of them.

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Kiddy Mar 18, 2013 09:57:11 PM ET

Help my 2 1/2 son he won't eat meal. all he wants to do is drink milk and snack fruit. i am frustrated and i really try to switch meals so he does not get bored. pls any suggestions

Travis M. Apr 2, 2013 09:28:05 PM ET

I find that my 4 year old son wants to eat my food, so i trick him. i eat some then say, "hey, are you eating my carrots & apples? he grabbs them and starts crunching! he thinks its so funny. he will eat anything with dips. also, he doesn't want to chew to much, so i cut things up well with kitchen shears, quickly too.

Nicole Jan 7, 2014 08:29:21 PM ET

Honestly, just keep serving the items you want them to try. never remove it from their plate because they "don't eat it" and always encourage them to try it!

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