Stopping toddlers from hitting and biting can be a really difficult time for most parents. In this post, I will share with you some techniques I used on my son to help him control his aggressive behaviour.
Why toddlers hit
A child may hit or display aggressive behavior for various reasons:
- They don’t understand other peoples feelings and emotions
- They may feel threatened
- They may be angry
- They can not control their impulses
- They may feel scared
- They may be testing boundaries
- They don’t have the skills to deal with certain situations
What to do when your child hits
- Relax and stay calm
- Remove the child from the situation and have some time out
- Do not ask your child to explain their behaviour
- Speak kindly to your child and explain that they have hurt the other child and how it has made them feel.
- Do not allow you child to blame the child he hurt.
- Try to diffuse the situation and calm the child down
- Only when the child is calm ask them to say sorry to the child they have hurt.
Q. Why is my toddler hitting and biting me?
This is a question I get asked all the time, from parents with kids of all ages who are looking for help with stopping toddlers from hitting.
Most kids go through the hitting stage and it can be really difficult to stop toddler hitting and aggressive behaviour and to remain calm whilst doing so!
The toddler hitting stage is one of the most challenging, frustrating and confusing times a parent can face, one which leaves the parent left with self-doubt, blame and guilt. The child who hits may become socially isolated and unable to go on a
For a lot of parents, the toddler hitting stage is short-lived, for some parents like, me it can go on for years.
If you’re a parent whose toddler hits or bites you can often feel alone and feel like your child is the only one who behaves this way. Believe me, you’re not!
I have two children, my eldest is 9, and my youngest is now 5.
When my eldest, went through the hitting, biting and scratching stage, my husband went to work most mornings with scratches down his face and I often had bite marks on my hands, all of which were prompted by something as trivial as my daughter being carried upstairs for bedtime or being given the wrong coloured cup at breakfast. she would not stop hitting scratching and biting!
Now, when I look at my beautiful, kind, gentle 9-year-old, it seems impossible to remember that this was the same child!
Let me also emphasise that as far as I know, my daughter never hit another child she only ever directed it at my husband and me.
We tried everything we could to break the habit,
- Jo Frost techniques, which were marvellous for most other issues but it didn’t help us with this particular issue.
- Reward charts
- Explanations about why she should not do it.
- Bribery (on desperate days, when we had to to get to an appointment)
- Threats ( “you won’t get this”, or ” I’ll take that away from you”.)
- The naughty step which was terrific for other behaviours but ineffective to our hitting issues.
Nothing worked! She had this overwhelming rage which just exploded into a mass of fur and sinew, and suddenly she was out of control, and I found myself in the middle of a brawl with a 2-year-old, it was terrifying!
I’d like to tell you that due to my amazing parenting skills, we managed to change her behaviour, but that was not the case!
We went on holiday with our lovely friends and their amazing little kids, and she just stopped doing it overnight. I suppose she just grew out of that stage.
There may have been a few factors which could have contributed to the sudden ending of this hideous behaviour,
- A different routine, which may be helped to break the habit.
- Being with her best friend who was the same age as my daughter, wasn’t a child that hits and didn’t behave that way to her parents. I think this may have helped teach my daughter not to hit and helped her learn what appropriate behaviour was and to follow her friend’s good example.
- She turned three while we were on holiday. The 2 year old hitting stage suddenly stopped, I’m not sure this was a factor but it may have helped my toddler stop hitting!
It was a combination of a few things I believe, but I’ll leave that to the experts!
Stopping toddlers from hitting
My son was an entirely different kettle of fish than my daughter, his rages were utterly overwhelming they included kicking, spitting, hitting, shoving, and he would follow me around the house charging at me as I tried to walk away.
He would smash and throw anything that he could get his hands on. Usually, if he couldn’t get his own way.
Again we tried everything, including going on holiday! Nothing worked!
To my knowledge, he didn’t direct this at other kids, or my daughter, again it seemed directed at my husband and me.
It was exhausting, overwhelming and it left me feeling hopeless and as if I had failed as a parent.
Like most other parents I was tenacious about getting to the bottom of what was going on in his little brain.
I realised after analysing every single stage of these horrendous tantrums that;
- He knew to hit was wrong
- He knew there would be consequences
- He understood he was hurting people both physically and emotionally
- He seemed to enjoy getting a reaction.
- He would get worse if you tried to ignore his behaviour.
- I could not prevent it by giving advanced countdown at bedtime, bath time etc.
- It was not through lack of routine or clear boundaries
- He was not willing to apologise afterwards
I decided that I needed to try a different approach to parenting and one that is very hard to master when your child hits you. I needed to be calm and I needed to support him. He didn’t have the skills to help himself so I needed to help him. Not punish him, not tell him how naughty he was, but to help him. I needed to help him understand his emotions and to be there for him, no matter what he was doing to me! I figured that if he was struggling to read I would help him not tell him off and realised that stopping toddlers from hitting was no different, he hadn’t got the skills to help himself so I needed to help him.
He didn’t have the skills to help himself so I needed to help him.
How I stopped my toddler from hitting me
- I immediately removed myself from the situation I figured that my son was directing his anger at me and staying with him would only inflame the situation
- As long as he was in a safe environment I would leave him alone. this would allow him the time and space he needed to cool down
- Once he has calmed down enough for us to have a chat I would go back to him at this point I would use the gentle touch and say to him “What’s wrong” and he would either collapse in a soggy heap of cuddles and say nothing or he would tell me everything that he felt, then without being asked he would normally apologise. Saying the words “what’s wrong” gave him the opportunity to tell me how he was feeling rather than “why did you do that” which just seemed to give him an excuse for his aggressive
- I would hug him and I wouldn’t let go until he was ready to let go no matter how busy I was or how vile he had been to me. We would sit for ages in silence just hugging, he needed it and so did I! It helped us both to remember that he’s still only little and still a baby.
Saying the words “what’s wrong” gave him the opportunity to tell me how he was feeling rather than “why did you do that” which just seemed to give him an excuse for his aggressive behaviour
The conclusion I also came to was, that he needed me to help him control his impulses, it was as if he didn’t have the skills to do this by himself. I felt this was the key to minimising his tantrums. I also knew that if I had some way of visually letting him know that his behaviour was unacceptable instead of yelling at him across a crowded room or playground, then I’d be able to crack it.
I first decided I needed a warning sign to let him know his behaviour was getting out of line and had heard about the traffic light system, I needed the system to be mobile, so I could use it when we were out of the house
- I came across this little keyring which can be used for stopping toddlers from hitting.
If I see my son sharing or being kind, I flash him a green card with a big smile , he then gets motivated and carries on being kind and plays nicely.
I like this little tool because rather than yelling at my child when we are outside or over a crowded room at a party or sports hall, I can quickly and discreetly flash him an amber warning card and he stops what he’s doing immediately and I don’t sound like a screaming banshee in the school playground!
My child was a toddler who thinks hitting is funny. Whenever I spoke to him about how hitting would hurt someone and was unkind he would blatantly laugh in my face. It was almost as if he didn’t want to listen, didn’t have the skills to listen or zoned out.
I decided I needed a visual aid which would help my son see for himself how he has behaved during the day without me nagging him, after a lot of research I found this Visual Interactive Behaviour Board, I loved the idea of giant clear ticks and crosses and straightforward pictures. The pictures include hitting, pinching, shouting, listening, being kind, manners and many more.
I loved the idea of this chart because my son can see how his day has progressed in a clear and precise manner, he can almost see himself hurting people, shouting and breaking things, and the also all the times that he has behaved amazingly well.
I knew I needed to reward him for his good days and to reward those green ticks. So I decided to set up a reward chart where he would get a green smiley face if he had all green ticks at the and of the day, an amber sticker if it was the mixture of ticks and crosses and red face if his chart had more red crosses the end of the day.
I used these Mini Traffic Light Stickers
How a toddler behaviour chart can help stop toddlers from hitting
- If I see my child doing something well, I put a green tick on his chart next to the picture of listening, sharing, being gentle for example.
- If I see him doing something he knows is wrong he gets a red cross next to the relevant picture, for example, kicking, breaking things, shouting.
- At the end of each day before bed, we look at his chart and discuss the pictures, we chat about what his did well and how he made people feel when his did things well. we also discuss happened when he got his red crosses and how he could deal with his emotions in a more positive way. It is much easier to get a child to understand their emotions when they are calm and in a safe, quiet, non-threatening environment.
- If the chart had mostly green ticks, he got a green smiley face on his reward chart
- If the chart was primarily red crosses, he received a red sticker on his reward chart
- If he had an equal amount of ticks and crosses, he got an amber sticker on his reward chart.
- At the end of the week, we checked his reward chart if he has mostly smiley green faces he got a treat of his choice.
- If the reward chart had Mostly greens and amber, I’d use my discretion and review how busy our week was, how tired he was, and how his behaviour was, to decide whether he should get his reward.
- If his smiley faces were mostly reds and amber, he would not get his chosen treat and we would chat about how to get
Although my little man had responded well to reward charts in the past, it had never been successful in curbing this issue, so I was praying that this would resonate with him.
We went through all the little pictures, ticks and crosses, stickers and charts and he found it all very funny. This, of course, didn’t over fill me with confidence!
If you’d like to download one of my free toddler reward charts click the button below!
Using the toddler behaviour chart.
The chart was the first thing my toddler mentioned when he got up, so we discussed which reward he would like if his weekly reward chart was mostly green stickers, he decided he wanted to go to Lyme Park for a picnic which is one of his favourite things to do.
All went well for a few hours until he pulled the cat’s tail, I asked him to be gentle, and he flew into a rage started shouting and hitting. I calmly put a cross on his chart for shouting and one for hitting.
He was devastated and apologised to both the cat and me immediately without prompting, which was something he always struggled with before, then broke down in floods of tears.
The rest of the day his behaviour was terrific, and he got green ticks to fill up his chart, resulting in his first green smiley face of the week and one step further to his reward. At the end of the night, we discussed all the green ticks and the two red crosses, and he could tell me how his behaviour had made me and the cat feel.
He was so pleased with himself he went to bed a calm and happy little boy.
He was very excited to get his ticks and I had stayed in control and was calm throughout, which also helped him control his behavior too.
He, for the most part, filled his chart with green ticks and smiley faces.
He had a day where they were mostly red, however, that was a day when he was out with his grandparents, so I think he thought he could get away with bad
He was devastated when he discovered that the behaviour he had presented with other people would still affect his reward chard!
He has a few slips now and again, mostly yelling. He has primarily green ticks with an occasional red one dotted in which is usually for rude behaviour.
I am now calmer, I feel more in control, respected and relieved that this has broken that awful toddler hitting cycle.
I feel that his behaviour now is more in line with most of his peers and I’m proud of him for that.
He is immensely proud of his green stickers and ticks and works very hard to earn them, and he has a better understanding of how his behaviour could be disruptive and how it was affecting people around him.
He is pausing before acting on impulse now because he knows he’s responsible for getting his green ticks and not is not blaming everyone else (including the cat) for his behaviour.
Why I think the toddler behaviour chart works with older children.
The reason I think my method works so well with my son is that
- I believe he is a visual learner.
- I think my words both positive and negative were not resonating with him, and I was never actually making any difference to his choices because it was as if he wasn’t listening and wasn’t hearing me.
- The key ring gave him a fair warning visually, even across a room, that his behaviour was either superb or unacceptable
- He was able to make the correct choices for himself rather than being told to stop, therefore he had no one to argue with and fight against
- It also let him know that I was checking on him even if I wasn’t standing next to him.
- The chart enabled us to deal with a situation immediately without a punishment. Therefore, it was over and done with within a matter of seconds, no threats, no consequences and no escalating out of control tantrums.
- It enabled him to be judged fairly on the whole day’s behaviour and not just an isolated incident being brought on by hunger, tiredness or overstimulation. It also helped me recognise all the things he was doing well during the day rather than focusing on the difficult times.
- If he did get a red cross on his chart, he tried extra hard not to get another. And he realised that his choices determined whether he got his reward at the end of the week, there was no punishment as such just no reward and that was the turning point for him, he loved his rewards and would do anything to make sure he didn’t lose them.
- He was able to relate to each picture on his chart to understand what we expected of him, something which explaining, coaxing or scolding had failed at.
I am aware each child has different needs, skill set, abilities and personality. Age is a huge factor too, however, due to this system being simple I feel this would have worked on my little boy at an earlier age too.
I’m relieved that this has worked for me after nothing else I’d tried was working, and I’m pretty sure that cat feels the same way!
If you feel you need help with being a less angry parent read this post
When you live with a toddler who hits it can be exhausting and it can really take its toll on any parent, for some relaxation techniques which can help you remain calm in stressful situations read my post about meditation and mindfulness
and for more information on self-care techniques that you can practice at home in 5 minutes download my free self-care checklist here
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