Your Toddler at 19 Months, 20 Months, & 21 Months
Biting and Hitting
Perhaps few topics in parenting and child development raise more emotions than when one child is aggressive toward another child. It is difficult for parents not to project thoughts of whether the “aggressor” has a tendency toward violence or if the victim has a tendency toward being targeted.
Both biting and hitting are not uncommon responses in the toddler world and should not be reflected as part of the personalities of children who display these behaviors. But that is not to say that these behaviors are to be ignored; both biting and hitting need to be addressed by parents and caregivers immediately.
There are many factors that can contribute to a biting or hitting incident, with some being quite benign. For one, when children are teething, biting can be satisfying for sore gums. Another is curiosity. “What sort of reaction will happen if I take a chunk from that kid’s hand?” Or, if children are bored or tired, these sorts of behaviors may appear.
Often biting and hitting result from a child’s own frustration. If a child is playing with a toy and another toddler tries to take it, the first child may not be able to express in words her feelings about having her toy taken. Her response is a quick nip on the hand or a shove aside.
What can parents and caregivers do when a child bites or hits? Two responses are very important initially:
- First, go to the victim to comfort and then remove the aggressor from the space where the altercation occurred. Again, try not to reinforce the behavior. Do not give the aggressor any positive reinforcement (no smiles, warm eye contact, or soothing voice).
- Then, with whatever language you are comfortable using and in a calm but firm voice, convey that biting or hitting is not OK. Talk to both children briefly about what happened and remind them of words that could have been used to prevent the aggression.
It is very important for toddlers to learn words, such as ”Stop!” or ”No!” to use in this context—both for the child who is about to have her toy taken from her and for the child who is about to be hit. And remember that the child who is biting or hitting needs your guidance and support just as much as her victim. Ostracizing or labeling her will not help her learn to stop the behavior and may add further stress to her in this setting and continue the problem. These behaviors will disappear with quick interventions from responsive caregivers.
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