Among all toddler behaviours, hitting and biting can cause parents the most worry and anxiety about how to handle it.  Here are some respectful suggestions to do in the heat of the emotional moment.



Ignore until they stop.

Tell them to say it again using their “normal” voice.

Model the “normal voice”.

Give the reward instantly when the normal voice is used.

When in a peaceful moment, ask for “inside, outside, whining, church and normal” voices.


Hitting, Pushing, Biting:

Find the need:  Do they want the toy, more personal space, attention, a reaction?

Make eye contact.

Say “Ouch! Hitting hurts!” or “I don’t like that!”

Don’t expect sharing.

Restrain child in your lap or carry away to another space.

Rocking the child and using a soft, repetitive voice helps the child to calm down.

Rub their backs to help them calm down.

Show disapproval in body/facial language.

Save your loud and sharp “No!” for times like this and for safety, or emergency situations.

Have a lot of similar toys and space to re-direct the child to.

Active Listen:  “You’re frustrated that he grabbed the toy?  You want your toy back?”

Teach the child to put up his hand for space invaders.

Teach I-Messages:  “I don’t like that”.  “I want the toy.” “I’m not done.”

Allow child his own time to give up a toy.  Gently remind him that someone is waiting.


Teach child to walk away.

Say “No!  We don’t bite.  Biting hurts”.

Remove from situation, but don’t banish to a room alone. Sit with the child to help calm down.

Teach “breathing” and “stamping feet” when child is angry.

Teach “trading” and “taking turns”.

Stay calm yourself.

Don’t grab toys from your child.  Model the behaviour you want.  Ask for the toy and wait for consent.  Always ask to use something that belongs to your child.

You could apologize for your child to the other child, to model what you want to see.

Don’t force apologies.  They need to come from the heart.

Tell the other child your child needs space, but doesn’t have the words to say so yet.

Shower the victim with attention.  Have the victim repeat the rule of “no hitting-hitting hurts” to the hitter.  Remove victim and take them with you to do something fun.  Be sure to increase the hitter’s attention in peaceful times.

Increase one on one time.

If hitting repeats, find something else for one child to do.

Acknowledge feelings of each sibling or child and repeat for the other child to hear, so they can start to learn empathy, and points of view.

If hitting repeats, children may be hungry, bored, tired.  Fix the underlying reason. 



Copyright Judy Arnall May 2003