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Are you having trouble with a child who hits, pinches, or bites other children? This can be quite embarrassing and leave other parents and caregivers with a poor opinion of you and or your child. Try not to take this personally. These behaviors occur with more children than you think, and your child will outgrow them in time.

There are many theories as to what causes childhood aggression. Some experts feel it is a learned behavior. One study out of the University of Montreal suggests that physical aggression in toddlers is more a result of genetic influences than environmental factors. Most experts agree that aggressive behavior in toddlers is a typical part of development.

These troubling behaviors occur most frequently in the toddler years and have been known to occur in preschoolers as well. From the age of 1-3 years of age, toddlers are going through a tremendous explosion in cognitive development, but the ability to express themselves doesn’t typically develop as fast. This can leave both the toddlers and the people caring for them very frustrated. In addition, toddlers are becoming increasingly independent and assertive. As a result, toddlers are very self-involved and strive for immediate satisfaction.

Often these behaviors stem out of frustration and an inability to express it in an appropriate manner. In time, as they become more verbal, they will be able to verbally express themselves and their feelings. When they can be more expressive, the aggressive behaviors diminish. Here’s how to help lessen the aggressive behavior.

  1. Track the trigger—When you know what events or actions regularly illicit the aggressive response, you can develop strategies to prevent it.
  2. Limit exposure to bad influences—Children learn from their environment. They can learn aggressive tendencies from television, video games, peers, and older siblings. They will mimic what they see whether it is appropriate for the situation or not.
  3. Be a good role model—Teach problem-solving skills. Do not spank or hit your child as a form of punishment. This will only reinforce the negative behavior. Instead remove him or her from the situation for a few minutes. A little timeout to cool off is most helpful in the heat of the moment. It is suggested one minute for every year of age.
  4. Supervise playgroups—Praise positive behaviors when you see them.
  5. Offer appropriate ways to express themself—Use and model a lot of feeling words. “You seem frustrated…” “I understand that is disappointing…” and then explain how your child should respond.

Be patient and consistent in your strategies.  As your child’s ability to communicate develops, he or she will become better at using words to express frustrations and at handling daily offenses.

Takeaways

  • Hitting, biting, and pinching occur in many children, and are usually behaviors that are outgrown.
  • Toddlers are self-involved and strive for immediate satisfaction, which can cause aggressive behavior.
  • Track your child’s aggressive behavior trigger and limit the exposure to help lessen the occurrences.

References

  1. North Caroline State University. Childhood Aggression: Where does it come from? How can it be managed?
  2. Zero to Three. National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.
  3. University of Montreal. Toddler aggression is strongly associated with genetic factors.

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Comments

  1. Perfect timing for this for me! My 3 yr old has started hitting some but only seems to do so when he is excited or REALLY upset, and never seems to do it maliciously. Still, I think there is nothing that makes you feel worse as a parent than this. We’ve done a lot of what you said – especially praising good behavior and giving words to feelings so I am glad to see you recommend them and that we might be on track! It is helping, and I can’t stress enough how hitting back only teaches them it is OK to hit, so avoid at all costs!

    Reply
  2. All throughout college I worked at a very good daycare in my hometown. We were often faced with biting toddlers. On a few occasions, we had extreme biters that caused concern for the safety of other children. After meeting with the parents on several occasions, they were given the option of pulling their child from the development center or trying the “vinegar” approach. Basically, if or when the child were to bite they would be told “no biting” and given a spoonful of vinegar (the parents sign a waiver and were always called beforehand). The child begins to realize that when they tried to bite they got the “nasty stuff” in their mouth. In many cases it worked and the child stopped biting. Just curious about your thoughts on this approach?

    Reply
    1. I have never heard of this but it sounds like a great idea. My four year old never bit or hit so now that my two year old does, it is hard to decide how to punish her for it. Timeouts don’t seem to work so we really don’t know what else to do. Of course we tell her things like, “that’s not nice,” and we have also bit her back but it doesn’t phase her. I am curious what others think about this vinegar approach as well!

      Reply
    2. I had very mixed feelings about this method when I first read your post. On the one hand I feel that the method is a good one,however I did not like the idea of the daycare doing it. I am glad they got the parents involved and obtained permission. I always preach the “consequence” should come as close the the act as possible, this is especially true the younger the child. And as a parent I would not have trouble giving them “nasty stuff”. I had used a drop of Tabasco sauce with my own children. So, after a bit of contemplation I am not opposed to the method. I do feel that a daycare needs to tread lightly and keep good communication with parents by obtaining permission and giving feedback on the response to this consequence. Also, it is important for parents to follow up at home even if hat is just a conversation about what happened and what would have been a better choice to biting.

      Reply

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