6 ways to help toddlers who are hitting, biting or pushing

Genevieve Muir
Genevieve Muir
Parent Educator and Obstetric Social Worker at the Mater hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys, Gen is passionate about working with families around connection and attachment with their children from birth to five years. Gen assists parents to filter out the noise and find the parenting rhythm that works for them. She has a Bachelor of Social work...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 4 mins read

When toddlers are going through a hitting phase, it is incredibly challenging. Here we are, trying to raise kind, considerate humans and suddenly our toddler is hitting, biting or hurting others! It can leave many parents wondering what to do and how to nip this behaviour in the bud.

I am a mum of four and my eldest used to bite when he was two. I found it so hard and so embarrassing! Here is what I know now that I wish  I had known 11 years ago:

  1. All behaviour is communication. Even biting. In fact, when you think of it, it’s very effective communication – after all, it gets the point across, right?
  1. Aggression in toddlers and some pre-schoolers is normal and your child is not destined for a life behind bars.
  1. No child “wants” to hurt or bite. They are in an unregulated state and need our help to stop.
  1. It never feels good to get it wrong. Getting it wrong and disappointing you is never their first choice.

How do I teach my child not to hit or push?

It’s can be extremely difficult to know what to say and do when your child is hitting or biting, but here are six tips that can help your little one to communicate differently.

1. Stop the hit – Your child needs your help, so this is a take charge moment. Stop the hit or bite physically. The aim is to be calm, kind and confident with your body and words in order to keep everyone safe. Remember: you losing it too won’t help!

2. Clear language – I find the words “I won’t let you (hit/bite/push)” the most helpful because they remind me that it’s my job to stop my child from hurting someone. These words are clearer for toddlers than “gentle hands” and also let our child know we are in charge.

3.Hold the limit – Sometimes your child will need more help to stop. This may mean physically stopping them from hurting a sibling or you, or moving them and you somewhere safe.

4. Empathy – is how we help a child start to understand the underlying feelings that lead to the behaviour. Once they understand the feeling that leads to them hitting, they are more able to choose an alternative.

5. Coaching – Once everyone is safe, and your child feels calm you can talk through what happened. “You got so excited playing the game and then you hit mummy so we stopped the game for now because it hurts when you hit me. We can try again tomorrow.”

6. Teach – Only once our kids feel calm, heard and connected with us again can we talk about using other ways to communicate.  I love to use stories, and curiosity to help toddlers to find alternatives to hitting.


Why is my toddler pushing and hitting?

Hitting, biting and hurting can happen for a variety of reasons and it can be helpful to try to pinpoint the reason by looking at what the underlying cause is for your child.

Is it sensory seeking? (It feels good to chomp down on things)

Is it from an emotional regulation root? (Your child is still learning to share and manage big feelings and sometimes they just lose it).

Does the biting or hitting happen at daycare more and if so when?

Or is it happening at home only and it’s related to sibling rivalry?

The solutions often lie in the answers to the above. The underlying feelings hold the answers.

Other things to remember

Just like when you are navigating toddler meltdowns and tantrums, managing phases of biting and hitting (which often go hand in hand with the former) requires consistency. Don’t flip flop between methods of handling outbursts – instead, pick a way that works for you and stick to it.

Using positive reinforcement can be an effective way to encourage good behaviour, so remember to praise your child when they use words to express their emotions or exhibit kindness to others.

The takeaway: 

  • If your child is hitting or biting, it could be because they don’t have the words to explain how they are feeling or if something is troubling them.
  • Approaching the situation calmly, consistently and with empathy is key to helping your child naviagte these big feelings and learn to control the urge to bite or hit.
  • Try to always use clear language such as “I won’t let you hit” as opposed to “gentle hands” which is vague and difficult for a toddler to understand.

While hitting, biting and pushing are normal behaviours in toddlers, if the amount of hitting, biting or pushing ever feels too much or is causing bigger problems for your child or your family, this is a good point to ask for extra help. A one-on-one with a parent educator, a chat with your GP or a fantastic OT are all good places to start.

Hang in there – hitting, biting and pushing in toddlers is a tough stage but with calm confident leadership, our kids do learn other ways to communicate.

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