Dealing with Aggressive Behavior
Lots of toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 years go through biting and/or hitting stages. Children at these ages cannot yet express in words their feelings, so they may bite or hit parents, children or caregivers to get attention or to express frustration (for example, because they want something that they cannot have). Being very curious, these young children also may bite just to see what kind of reaction it provokes. Although the reasons for this aggressive behavior may be understandable, the behavior itself is never acceptable. Biting and hitting hurt, and children need to learn more appropriate ways to express themselves.
So what can parents do? When your child bites or hits you or someone else, it is very important that you make a swift, direct response tell him what he should not do, why he should not do it, and what the consequences will be if he does it again. State firmly and immediately: "No! Do not bite! Biting hurts!" Keep your words simple and short. Long explanations about why biting and hitting are wrong are useless with toddlers children this age simply don't have the attention span or developmental ability to understand it all.
After responding to your child's misbehavior, try to figure out why he acted this way. If your child is biting or hitting simply to get attention, discourage this behavior by making extra efforts to praise him when he does behave appropriately. If he is biting to relieve teething pain, offer him a soft chew toy. If he is frustrated or angry, remove him from the situation for one to two minutes and suggest words that he can use to express his feelings. If he is over-stimulated, over-tired or hungry, address the specific need and try to anticipate it in the future. Be sure to also pay close attention to the victim if your child has kicked or hit another child.
By properly addressing aggressive behaviors as soon as they occur, most children learn quickly that this kind of behavior is socially unacceptable and stop. Talk with your pediatrician if your child is older than 3 years of age and still hitting and/or biting others.
Last updated May 29, 2011