Creative Child

When Toddlers Bite, Hit, and Hurt Others

“It is simple logic that treating an aggressive child aggressively is not a good way to model the kindness we want him to learn.” – Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting
by Rebecca Eanes


The second important point is to be mindful what you are modeling. Some parents are advised to bite their child back which only models the exact behavior you’re trying to correct! And yes, I’ve heard parents say “well, it worked” and maybe the child didn’t bite after that, but I’m certain that the alarm of being bitten by their parent who is supposed to protect them from harm showed itself in some other way. If we want to raise children who are able to manage their emotions and behavior and to respond with gentleness to others, then we have to be that first. Children learn by our example far more than they learn by our lectures.


Concrete Steps:
1. Prevent when possible. Study your child’s behavior. Know the cues that indicate he or she is about to hit or be aggressive in some way. When you see these cues, get close. Gently block the hit and provide safety for everyone. This will likely cause more frustration and may lead to a meltdown, and that’s ok. Those feelings of frustration need to come pouring out. The goal is to let your child safely express those feelings. I know you want your child to learn not to have a tantrum when things don’t go her way, and she will! Her brain will mature and she will gain control of executive functions in time, but you cannot punish maturity into her. You can only be there to support her and provide the best conditions in which mother nature can do its job.

  1. Listen with empathy. Remember, this is a child who is hurting in some way, not a naughty child. With that in mind, you can be empathetic to his experience. Listening is a powerful positive discipline tool. I wish we hadn’t been fooled into believing that staying close and providing emotional support and unconditional love is somehow going to reinforce bad behavior. Those are the very things that help a child heal and do better.
  2. Do time-in instead of time-out. During a time-in, you simply get your child out of the situation by bringing them to a designated calming area in your home or even onto your lap or in a chair beside you and help them to calm down. Read my article on how to use time-in here.
  3. Discuss better ways to express frustration and anger when your child is calm and receptive. It takes a while for children to be able to manage their emotions. Even adults have difficulty doing it sometimes! But by talking with your child about ways he or she can do better, you’re giving them the vocabulary to help them express themselves and giving them real tools they will eventually be able to use. Trust that she’ll get it in time, and always tell her how much you believe in her!
Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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