My Child Keeps Biting/Pinching/Hitting – What Should I Do?

It can be pretty upsetting when your child starts a phase of biting, pinching or hitting you or other people.

First of all, it’s important to stay calm and remember;

  • It isn’t your fault!
  • It’s a normal developmental phase!
  • There are plenty of things we can do to discourage it!

We’ve reached out to the parents in our online community, using the NHS guidance and online resources to find the best advice for any mummies and daddies who are struggling with this behaviour and unsure how to deter it!


Try To Find The Root Cause Of The Behaviour

If you can identify ‘triggers’ to this behaviour, fantastic! Look at what happened before, during and after the behaviour. This will go a long way in being able to discourage biting, pinching and hitting (or scratching, kicking etc).

Common root causes of hurtful toddler behaviour;

  • Teething. This can cause the urge to bite down. It can also make your child frustrated.
  • Lack of sleep; I think we can all agree that being over tired can cause a terrible mood!
  • Language & communication difficulties; speech delay can make it hard to convey needs & emotions leading to a lash out.
  • Being made to share but not understanding the concept.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by noise, space, light etc.
  • Seeking out sensory stimulation.
  • Life changes.

If you’re able to get an idea of what is triggering your child, you can then take measures to try and help before they reach the point of wanting to lash out.

Teething: Keep on top of pain relief. Anbesol, Bonjela and frozen chews are proven remedies that will help ease their discomfort and hopefully remove the urge to bite a person.

Lack of sleep: If they’re going through a developmental leap, ride the storm out with them and be patient whilst consistently and firmly telling them ‘no’. Try to consider aspects that could be affecting their sleep; is their bed uncomfortable? Do they need a night light? Is their routine disrupting their sleep at night? It’s very much trial and error but cracking the sleep issue could have a knock on benefit for their behaviour.

Speech & language: My son is speech delayed, so this is one I can relate to a lot. He can’t convey his needs, both physical and emotional, effectively. This often leads to him getting frustrated! Remember, all kids develop at their own pace, but if you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language development, speak to your Health Visitor and childcare provider as support can be offered. Max is doing the ECAT programme, and has been referred for speech & language therapy. It’s also good to try to put words into what you think your child needs; so if they’re possibly hungry, ask them consistently ‘are you hungry? Do you need food?’ to help them associate the words with their need.

Sharing: Being unable or unwilling to share is so common in toddlers and younger children; remember, their social skills are still developing! Needing to share can make a child frustrated, and if they’ve no other outlet, they may physically lash out. The best ways to get around this are;

  • Don’t force it – instead, introduce ‘turn taking’ as a gentle precursor so they can see the toy won’t be away from them forever.
  • Consistently reward and praise good turn taking. Positive reinforcement is key!
  • Keep treasured, ‘important’ toys out of the way when playing with other children to avoid any upset.
  • A good way to introduce sharing is encouraging them to get involved with tasks; ask them to help you clean the windows, or another simple household task whilst you do another nearby.
  • Discuss feelings as early as possible; sad, happy, angry, tired etc. When they won’t take turns, explain that the other child may be sad.

Parents Place is a fabulous resource for this issue!

Sensory input seeking: Teething chews are great for kids who seem to have an oral fixation; this is a common feature of Autism, so it’s worth discussing this with a Health Visitor if your child has a significant need for sensory input.

Life changes: Children can pick up on life changes; the birth of a new baby, moving house, parents having emotional difficulties etc. The NHS advises that you don’t blame yourself but remember to not blame your child either. We advise being firm, consistent but above all else, as comforting and reassuring as possible.


Distraction Techniques

There’s a lot to be said for distraction techniques! It’s a fantastic behaviour management technique, and we’ve taken a look at the best ways to implement this;

  • When squabbling over a toy, introduce a new activity/game that you think they’ll love to help take their mind off the toy.
  • Remove them from the situation. Our preschool does this with our son, and it works really well.
  • Always plan a ‘Plan B’ – for example, if you anticipate your child will be triggered by something within your house, ensure you’re able to smoothly transition to a new activity outside.
  • Introduce music, singing and other sounds! The new sensory input provides great distraction.
  • Never go out without a fun activity in your bag!


Don’t React Harshly & Be Consistent

It’s important to take note that shouting, shaming and reciprocating the bad behaviour yourself is a bad idea and doesn’t reduce the behaviour – you may have been advised to ‘bite back’, this is no longer considered to be an advisable, effective method and shouldn’t be endorsed.

Zero To Three points out that toddlers act out to ‘fulfil a need’ and express something, so reacting harshly in response isn’t going to eliminate the behaviour, it’ll just result in more frustration and more acting out. It also goes against the concept of ‘modelling’; children learn from the behaviour that we ‘model’, and doing the behaviour back gives them a very conflicting message – “it’s bad to bite, but it’s ok for mummy to bite”. See how this could be confusing for a frustrated child who can’t express themselves?

Instead…

  • As previously mentioned, consider the potential triggers.
  • Consistently and firmly tell your child ‘no’ but don’t shout or be aggressive.
  • Be patient and calm. This is beneficial for your child’s social skills and will help them with conflict resolution in future.
  • Be consistent.


Be Patient – It’ll Take Time For Them To Learn!

Above and beyond all, remember that it takes time and consistency. These behaviours can absolutely be effectively discouraged and will stop, but it takes time.

  • Firmly and consistently explain that the behaviour hurts.
  • Be positive about good behaviour and progress.
  • Avoid smacking or reciprocating other bad behaviour; the NHS states that children who’re dealt with by aggressive techniques are more likely to be aggressive themselves.
  • Seek extra help if you need it; there’s nothing wrong with needing more support. Your Health Visitor is a great place to start.

The NHS recommends the Family Lives website for parenting advice and support. You can also phone their free parents’ helpline on 0808 800 2222!

The NSPCC’s guide to positive parenting is another valuable resource. You can call them for free on 0808 800 5000.


The most important thing to take away from this is that you’ve got this, mummies & daddies. You will get through this, so don’t panic.

Love from Katie & Team BBY. Xx