Why does my child bite or hit others?
Babies and toddlers may use biting and hitting to explore the world, to communicate their needs, or express how they feel.
Your child may bite or hit for a number of reasons, including:
- When they’re feeling anxious or unsettled, or find it hard to communicate or express their feelings.
- They’ve learned it gets them what they want – attention, control, toys or space – or are copying behaviour they’ve seen in others.
- Boredom, if they don’t get enough active or stimulating play time.
- Babies may use biting in particular to explore the world and find out how things (or people!) work, rather than trying to cause hurt.
How should I react to biting or hitting?
Don’t be tempted to bite or hit your child to ‘show them how it feels’: is it classed as child abuse and your little one simply won’t understand what behaviour you want from them. Instead, try to stay calm, even if the episode has you feeling shocked, angry or annoyed.
- In a firm voice say “No biting. Biting hurts” and comment on how the other person is feeling: “Look, Johnny is crying – biting hurts.”
- Shift your attention to the child who’s been hurt, ensuring the biter or hitter gets minimal attention.
- Track when your child bites or hits, and the time of day (before nap/bed? Before mealtimes?). This helps you identify triggers and tackle them in advance.
- Role model other ways of handling emotions through play, or by showing the appropriate ways you handle your own feelings.
- Encourage your child to say how they’re feeling or (for younger children) say the words for them: “I can see you are feeling cross/frustrated.” Let them know you understand and respect how they feel.
- Talk about emotions, or share books and stories about feelings.
- Encourage empathy: chat about how you, your child and others might feel in different situations.
- For older children (3½ years and up), you may choose to introduce ‘Time Out’ on a chair or step, or in a room where there are fewer distractions. You may have less need of Time Out if you try the strategies above, so it’s worth starting with them!
When should I get help?
Biting usually stops by the age of 3 ½, while most children grow out of hitting by the time they’re around 5 years old. If it continues, it may be worth seeking advice from your health visitor or GP – they can also refer you to a specialist if need be.
Want more advice or support?
You can talk via online chat to our family support workers and get advice specific to your situation and your family.