Your Toddler’s Development: Hitting, Kicking, Biting

It is important to understand the reasons behind your child’s developmentally appropriateyet unacceptablehitting, kicking or biting behaviors. Try to consider your child’s point of view.

Some frustrations may include:

  • She cannot fully verbally express her feelings.
  • She does not have fully developed self control.
  • She is defending herself from an “attack” from another child, whether it is hair pulling, toy grabbing, etc.
  • She is experimenting with cause and her effect on the world.
  • She’s tired.
  • She’s hungry.
  • She’s over stimulated.
  • Sometimes, she may not even have a reason.

These are just some scenarios that may prompt your toddler to believe that hitting is a justifiable response to her frustration. And, toddlers may not always realize that hitting or other inappropriate behaviors hurt, or she just may not be able to control herself. As a parent, your job is to safely redirect her away from those behaviors. Here are some ways to do just that:

Respond immediately. Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings and provide a lesson in positive behaviors. Using a firm, nonthreatening voice, tell her, “No! I know you want a turn but we do not hit! Hitting hurts! Use your words.” And then redirect her attention. If your child still feels the need to hit, perhaps provide a “Mad Pillow.” Purchase a silly looking pillow that your toddler is allowed to hit when she feels the need to physically express her frustration. This will allow her to experiment with hitting, though it will typically evoke giggles as soon as it surfaces.

Focus your attention on the victim—even if that’s you! This demonstrates compassion, teaches your child that bad behavior does not gain attention and helps her to understand her actions. Be sure to provide plenty of praise and positive reinforcement when she does use her words to express feelings instead of negative behaviors, and be specific with your praise. (“You shared nicely with your sister. That makes me happy!”)

Don’t allow your child to benefit from negative behaviors. If your toddler used negative behaviors to take a toy from another child, don’t allow her to keep it. If she finds that her approach results in her benefit, she’ll do it again.

Don’t force an apology. Doing so removes value from the apology. Instead, model the appropriate behavior. Tell the victim, “I am sorry that you are hurt.” Use words that describe feelings, “I am sorry that your sister took your toy and made you sad.”

Learning positive behaviors and self-control can take time. In the meantime: Be consistent. Stay calm. Look for teachable moments and opportunities to prevent negative behaviors. And most importantly, always keep a sense of humoryour child won’t be two forever!