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You are here: Home > Toddlers > Parenting

Correcting Toddler Behavior - Biting, Hitting, & Throwing

by Danielle Haines | July 28, 2008 12:00 AM
73 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 54 Comments
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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.

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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!!!!!!

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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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Guest Mar 12, 2015 11:44:41 AM ET

My 14 month old daughter is bitting, hitting, throwing herself on the floor, crying, throwing her little chair when she gets mad. but, it happens like 75% of the day. she gets a little upset when other kids are around she hits me in my face. when she acts like this i don't scream at her. i tell her "no thats not nice!" or "we don't do things like that!!!" sometimes, i pluck her and she stops for 5 mins and does as she pleases!!! what do you think i should do? .

Courtney Feb 2, 2017 02:19:09 PM ET

How old is she?

Courtney Feb 2, 2017 02:19:57 PM ET

I meant how old is she now? is she still continuing to do those things?

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Denisejason Feb 16, 2015 12:36:43 PM ET

My son is going on 28 months old. he is having trouble with speech delay. but, lately i've been noticing that he gets more aggressive. he gets a temper and throws things. there has been times when he's hit me and his father. do you have any advice on how to manage that?

Guest Apr 3, 2017 07:36:04 PM ET

You might want to take him to the doctor and have him recommend speech therapy, and tell him your concerns, and see what he suggests.hope i was some help because my son was like that somewhat, and he received speech therapy, and he has adhd. he's on medicine and doing well. he had speech therapy for a year. he makes good grades and is fixing to graduate next year and take college.

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Concernedmammy Jan 28, 2015 11:37:29 AM ET

My boy/girl twins have just turned 3, and started nursery this january. my girl who is very advanced for her age has settled in well, but we are having problems with my son. the school has asked me to go in to observe his behaviour, as they are not sure he is ready for nursery. apparently, if he doesn't want to do something he won't, and subsequently won't always follow the nursery's routine. they keep putting him in timeout, but say that after his time is up he still appears angry, (he's never angry at home after sitting on the naughty step), and that he keeps throwing things. i don't know if i'm seeing things from rose coloured glasses, but i would have thought this to be normal for a recently turned 3 year old just starting nursery 3 weeks ago, especially as he's only ever been with me, his dad, or his grandparents. i honestly feel like they've labeled him a 'naughty child'. has anyone else had this experience? i am i too soft in thinking that this is normal behaviour, as they seem to be making a real deal out of it by seeing the head teacher and asking me to come in so they can evaluate if he's right for nursery?? the trouble is, if he's told not to come back, i'm worried it will delay his development, and also, i don't want my twins going to separate nurseries. he's done so well in the past 3 weeks too. he stopped crying after i left by week 2, and has had no toilet accidents, etc. i'm so upset, and would appreciate any helpful comments.

Guest Jan 10, 2017 06:38:45 PM ET

How did this work out for you? i'm in the exact same situation now.

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megan Jan 24, 2015 07:09:24 PM ET

My daughter turned 2 in december when she was about 11/2. she started what you might call the terrible 2s. she hits and cries non stop about 85% of her day. she cries because she's not getting her way. she kicks, screams, eats anything except food, she won't sit at the table nor a high chair, she throws her food everywhere. her favorite word is no, and when we try to correct her she turns right around and keeps on doing it. punishment is no concern to her. i have a 7 year old son, a 4 year old step daughter, and a almost 2 year old step daughter, and none of them has ever acted like my 2 year old daughter. i figured starting this at 11/2, and now being a little over 2 she would grow out of some of this, but it seems like it just gets worse. she loves to punch and poke other kids and her other favorite saying is, "stop being mean mommy," or "stop being mean daddy." i have no clue what to do. please help.

Guest Mar 12, 2015 05:54:28 PM ET

I would suggest asking your doctor for a referral to a pediatrician. "terrible twos" are normal, but crying and hitting for 85% of the day is not typical. eating anything except food isn't typical for this age either. it's definitely worth pursuing further investigation. i work at a child development center and we encourage families to seek the advise of a developmental pediatrician. seek out someone who will take the time to observe your child and really listen to your concerns. good luck

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