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How to Stop Toddlers from Hitting and Biting

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Ouch! Find out how to help your toddler be safe with their hands and mouth.

Have you become a punching bag for your toddler? Has your toddler developed a bad habit of hitting when they get frustrated? Or perhaps bite you when they don’t get their way.

The toddler years are a trying time for parents — they can be full of tantrums, meltdowns, and tears.

It’s common for parents to wonder how to stop their toddler from hitting and biting. Understanding why they do it and how to prevent it is crucial. We’ve experienced this phase more than once and have consulted the experts for help. When you understand the cause of a behavior, it’s easier to stop it.

We’ll share what we’ve learned and the tactics that worked for us so you can help empower your toddler to stay in control when their feelings are escalating.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the reasons behind hitting and biting, such as experimenting, communicating, or feeling scared.
  • Kindly stop the aggression, move to a quiet place, and teach your toddler to use their words instead of hitting or biting.
  • Provide a consistent routine, plenty of positive attention, and various types of stimulation to help prevent aggressive behavior.
  • Avoid getting angry and punishing your toddler, as this may reinforce the habit instead of preventing it.

Why Toddlers Hit and Bite

It would be easy if there were a “one-size-fits-all” behavioral manual for hitting and biting. While it’s not that simple, we’ll do our best to assist you. There are some common causes of aggression you’ll need to consider.

1. Experimenting

Toddlers want to explore and experiment — it’s the way they learn cause and effect (1). But sometimes, this means they’ll bite or hit the nearest person, whether this is their parent or a child at the playground.

Hitting is one thing that almost all toddlers will experiment with at some point. Most will stop it when they see it isn’t accepted.

2. Trying to Communicate

Like the rest of us, toddlers have needs — they get hungry, bored, scared, and overwhelmed. Toddlers are still babies in many ways, and although they may know some words, their vocabulary isn’t that advanced.

One-year-olds often lack communication skills to express their feelings, which typically leads to frustration. Instead of bursting out in tears, toddlers are more likely to use their bodies. You may have noticed them arching their back, throwing their arms in the air, banging their head, or stomping on the floor.

Some toddlers take it a bit further and lash out. They may hit when you don’t understand their needs or bite you if you disagree.

It doesn’t mean your parenting skills are bad. They do it merely because they don’t know how to express their distress.

3. Defense Mechanism

We often see children on the playground hitting other kids when they come near the toys. Like all of us, toddlers don’t like it when someone snatches their stuff. Even if a child tells them to stop or that the toy is theirs, a toddler might not listen or may ignore them.

Toddlers cannot understand the concept of sharing until at least age 3 (2). It is developmentally normal for a 2-year-old not to want to share with other children. It may take time and gentle reminders for older toddlers to become consistent with sharing (3).

So, what’s a toddler to do when other children don’t respect their boundaries? They push back, often by hitting and biting.

Toddlers still don’t have that impulse control required to not act out in anger. It’s not something they’ll fully acquire until they become older, around age 5 (4).

4. Having an Off Day

You know how it is when you feel tired, grumpy, and moody. Most of us chalk it up to having an “off” day. Well, the same often happens for toddlers. They can have a day where they just don’t feel like themselves.

Throughout that day, everything can trigger a tantrum, and it becomes particularly difficult toward the end of the day. Even if your little one doesn’t usually hit or bite, an off day can quickly push them to aggression.

5. Feeling Scared

Although hitting isn’t our only instinctive reaction to being scared, it’s an innate response. Not all toddlers will hit, and sometimes, it can be challenging to spot that they’re hitting in response to fear.

Not every toddler will look angry or impassive as they hit. Some may only resort to aggression when distraught; others quickly start laughing.

Laughter may sound like the last response to fear, but it’s common in toddlers. It’s a way toddlers and children release built-up emotions and feelings, making them happier overall. When hitting is accompanied by laughter, it may be because your toddler is trying to release the tension (5).

It may also be because they think biting is a “game.” During office visits, I’ve seen toddlers smile, look at mom, bite her, and then laugh. Unless they are told otherwise, toddlers don’t realize that biting hurts.
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Editor's Note:

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

6. Teething

When new teeth are erupting, you may notice your toddler biting or chewing on various objects. Sometimes, they choose to bite people.

Parents often express concern about their toddler biting them or another child at day care. This may occur until the final primary molars erupt, by 30 months old at the latest (6).

If you notice that your 2-year-old is drooling again, the reason for biting is likely from teething discomfort.

7. Imitating Others

Infants and toddlers learn much of what they do by imitating others. This includes both good behaviors and bad ones, like hitting and biting.

When the topic of hitting comes up during office visits, my first question to the parent is, “Who hit your child first?” The answer is often another child at day care or school.

At other times, it is an older sibling. Although some don’t realize it, this behavior imitation includes physical punishment issued by a parent.

I have often witnessed a parent “tap the hand” of their toddler to stop unwanted behavior, only to see it followed by the toddler hitting the parent back. Particularly at this age, hitting is misinterpreted as an appropriate response to being upset (7). This can increase the frequency of hitting rather than discouraging it.

How to Stop a Toddler from Hitting and Biting

We’ve found that some of these tactics work on their own or as a combination with others to prevent a toddler from hitting and biting.

1. Stop the Aggression Kindly

When you notice your toddler is about to hit, it’s important to stop it. If they’re about to hit you, grab and hold their hand firmly but kindly to prevent the blow. Don’t hesitate, even if they’re just trying without following through. You want to show it isn’t acceptable (8).

It’s the same with biting, scratching, or kicking. Teach your toddler that they aren’t allowed to harm others. Then tell them something like, “No. Hitting hurts!”

2. Move to a Quiet Place

If you’re out in public or have guests at the house, go somewhere private and quiet. Even if you have to pick your child up and carry them while they kick and scream, it’s best for them.

When in a public place, I recommend taking the child back to the car until the tantrum or outburst resolves. Once your child is calm, you can resume your outing.
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Editor's Note:

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Moving your child to a quiet place will more effectively calm them than staying in the same “hot spot.” You should avoid addressing the issue in public. Toddlers feel embarrassed, just like us, so seeing other people around can worsen the situation (9).

Once in a quiet location, you can calm them down and tell them their actions weren’t acceptable.

3. Teach the Use of Words

You want your toddler to be able to use their words instead of their teeth or fists when feeling angry. However, 1- to 3-year-olds don’t always know how to express themselves verbally, so they may need help.

It’s best to do this once you’ve moved your toddler to a quiet spot. Then, once your child has calmed down, look them in the eye and talk to them as firmly but calmly as possible. Say something like, “I can see you are angry, but we don’t hit others.”

The key is keeping a calm voice. If you’re feeling annoyed or impatient, try to suppress it. Children can learn a lot about modeling self-control from you.

As parents who have experienced our fair share of public toddler meltdowns, we know it can be worrying and embarrassing. However, always keep in mind that your toddler learns from you. If you’re throwing a fit about their fit, they will see this as the way to act.

Once the situation is calm, you can do a debrief. Go over what happened and tell your toddler that hitting is never OK.

Also, encourage them to use words. A good way to do this is by re-enacting the situation. Pretend to get frustrated, then use a doll or teddy as a victim.

Hit the toy lightly and then ask your toddler if this is the best way to react. Your toddler will probably laugh and say no.

Then, do it again, but instead of hitting, tell the toy that you’re angry because you want to sleep. Use labeling words that your toddler can understand and use later on. If it’s too complex, they can get frustrated.

Most Importantly

Offer lots of praise when they use their words!

4. Drive the Negative Feelings out

Sometimes, your toddler just needs another way to force the negativity out. Once you’ve prevented them from hitting, those built-up emotions are boiling inside. As your little one becomes more uncomfortable, they’re likely to burst out in tears or throw a tantrum.

Believe it or not, this is a good thing. Yes, tantrums are a headache, but they’re also a way to let out strong emotions and distress.

Let them cry while you’re staying close. If they want a hug, give it; if not, provide comfort with your voice instead.

Look at it as a massive wave of emotions crashing on the shore. Once they’ve settled, only calm remains — you’ll see the difference right away.

5. Don’t Mimic

When it comes to a toddler who bites, many parents are guilty of nibbling on their fingers to show them how it feels. It’s just too irresistible. However, it’s essential to avoid giving in (10).

If your toddler bites you while you’re nursing, they’re exploring your reaction. So when your little one bites, take them off the breast, say, “No,” and then latch again.

If they continue to bite, repeat the process, but no more than twice. After two tries, stop feeding altogether. Take a five-minute break, and try it again. Soon, they’ll realize that this isn’t how to behave.

When it comes to biting in school or day care, I occasionally see a patient who has been bitten by another child. Understandably, the parents are very upset and concerned about possible infections. In the majority of cases, preventative antibiotics are not needed. Ensuring your child is immunized against Hepatitis B is an important preventative measure. Most establishments require this vaccine for attendance (11).
Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Editor's Note:

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

How to Prevent Hitting and Biting

It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Consider some of these tactics that work toward prevention:

1. Predict the Reaction

Try to predict when your toddler is going to hit someone, especially at the playground with other children. By stopping them before they do it, you’re also helping them stop the impulsive, repetitive behavior.

It’s easy to do this — simply listen to the voice in your head telling you that they’ll probably hit someone soon. Once you hear this, it’s your signal to calm the situation. You know your toddler better than anyone, so don’t doubt your inner instinct. Being prepared is the best way to prevent hitting.

Once you hear the signal, get close to your toddler, but be warm and comforting. Avoid approaching them with verbal warnings and threats — this will only worsen the situation, prompting them to strike. Instead, do a friendly patrol.

You don’t have to say much. If their arm’s out or they’re trying to bite, hold them and let them know that you aren’t letting go. When you can, try to make eye contact — remain firm and don’t give in.

2. Give Lots of Positive Attention

Try always to be present when you’re with your toddler. Be positive about what they’re showing or telling you, and praise them whenever they do something right.

Try your best to give specific praise. Instead of merely saying, “Good job,” say, “Good job using your words.” Doing this can also prevent tantrums as you show your toddler they’re acknowledged.

We understand giving your child your undivided attention is not always feasible, especially if you work from home. But try your best.

Avoid Scolding

Getting angry and scolding your toddler won’t prevent anything. Remember that lashing out is a natural reaction for them, and they haven’t yet acquired the proper coping skills. Shaming or giving harsh punishments only reinforces the behavior. It also causes toxic stress that has long-term negative effects (12).

3. Maintain a Schedule

Routines are crucial for toddlers. They don’t always understand everything that goes on around them, so sudden changes can cause distress.

By following a set schedule, your little one will be more prepared for what the day holds. This gives them comfort and a feeling of safety. Before leaving home for an activity, go over the plan for the day as well as your expectations. Doing so can limit a toddler’s frustrations. If things don’t go as planned, it is OK to end the activity early and head home.

Set up a maintainable schedule of play, naptime, meals, and bedtime. Ensure that they get plenty of time to play and be active. It’s recommended that toddlers get at least 60 minutes of unstructured active play and 30 minutes of structured play per day (13).

Ideally, try to spend much time outdoors, letting them burn off steam. This may even help them sleep better at night. Have set times for naps and bedtime.

Remember to unwind a couple of hours before bed to help your little one fall asleep faster.

4. Give Lots of Snuggles

Provide warm snuggles and cuddles throughout the day. This is an easy thing to do, and it will benefit both your toddler and you. By actively showing your love, you create a safe space for your little one.

5. Offer Simple Choices

Toddlers want to be as independent as possible, but they probably still need your help with most of it. By asking them simple questions, like if they want help with their shoes, you’re giving them a reasonable amount of control.

I find this works best when offering two choices. For example, “Do you want to wear the blue shoes or brown shoes?” In this way, your child feels some independence in choosing which shoes to wear. It also avoids a “no” answer, resulting in a battle to put shoes on. This can prevent potential outbursts due to frustration.

6. Provide All Kinds of Stimulation

Toddlers often resort to hitting or biting when they feel bored. Combat this by providing lots of stimulation. This can be physical, social, musical, and intellectual.

In your daily schedule, set out times for different activities. They don’t have to last long or be complicated. Thirty minutes is ample — you can bring out some pots to bang on, sing a song, or read a story.

7. Distract

Sometimes, the best prevention is a good distraction. If you feel your toddler is about to bite or hit, suggest a different game or activity. If they are teething, offer a teething toy on which to bite instead. Toddlers find the simplest things exciting as long as you show enthusiasm too.


Why is My Toddler So Angry and Aggressive?

Toddler aggression can stem from frustration, lack of language skills to express themselves, or simply testing boundaries. It’s a phase many toddlers go through as they learn to regulate their emotions.

Is Biting a Symptom of Autism?

While biting can be seen in children with autism, it’s also common in typical toddler development. If biting is frequent or accompanied by other developmental concerns, it may warrant further evaluation.

Why is My Toddler Aggressive at Daycare?

Toddlers might show aggression at daycare due to the stress of separation, difficulty sharing, or overstimulation. Consistent rules and coping strategies can help them adjust.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Toddler’s Aggression?

Concern arises if the aggression is frequent, intense, or doesn’t improve with age. If it impedes their ability to interact with others or disrupts daily activities, it’s wise to get some advice from a pediatrician or child psychologist.

How Long Does a Hitting Phase Last In Toddlers?

The hitting phase in toddlers can last for several months. It usually diminishes as they develop better language skills and learn more appropriate ways to express their emotions.

The Takeaway

It’s clear that hitting and biting are two unacceptable behaviors that we need to stop our toddlers from continuing. But it’s also important to remember that it’s a natural reaction. Getting angry and punishing your toddler won’t help and may even reinforce the habit.

Children react the way they do for several reasons, making parents wonder how to stop their toddlers from hitting and biting. However, it’s essential to understand the reasons behind it. It’s usually a way for them to experiment or communicate, or it may be a simple reaction to being scared.

The best thing to do is kindly stop the aggression, move to a quiet place, and teach them how to use their words. Be consistent about correcting their behavior, and it won’t be long before you notice the biting and hitting stops entirely.

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Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP is board certified in General Pediatrics and began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. Outside of the field of medicine, she has an interest in culinary arts. Leah Alexander has been featured on Healthline, Verywell Fit, Romper, and other high profile publications.