Toddler biting and punching

Toddlers Guide sibling rivalry illustrationAs well as tantrums, you might find your toddler develops an aggressive behaviour streak. This is more common in boys during late toddlerdom.

It tends to get worse with changes of routine or if they're under the weather but, regardless of the causes, toddler biting or punching is stressful for parents, especially when the aggression is targeted at other people's children.

Many of the tactics for dealing with aggression are similar to those for dealing with tantrums (regular snacks, exercise, advance warning about plans).

But it's hard to ignore a small child headbutting you in the groin when you're signing for a recorded delivery parcel or chatting to a client on the phone. Nevertheless, it's important to try to keep your cool.

"If my son makes a swipe at me I just tell him firmly that we don't hit other people, then perhaps try to distract him. If he is really kicking off, I usually ask him to go and sit somewhere to calm down," says one Mumsnetter.

Some children use aggression to get attention. They may hit out for the first time for some other reason, but once they see the gratifyingly colourful reaction from the adult looking after them, they decide it might be fun to repeat it.

The difficulty for parents is that these episodes of aggression often happen in social situations - at playgroup or during playdates.

Give the other child - the one who has been injured - lots of attention. Then, after asking your child in a low, firm voice to say sorry and telling them not to do it again, distract them with something else. This gets across the message that hitting isn't going to get them attention.


Toddlers biting is another common problem and can start from babydom, although a small baby testing out his single tooth is not the same as a two-year-old with a full set sinking his gnashers into your arm.

If the recipient of the bite is another child, then follow the technique of making a huge fuss of the injured party and giving the biter a low-key response.

If you're the one being bitten, it's sometimes harder to conceal the agony, but try to keep your reaction as minimal as possible, and don't retaliate.

Try to give biters, pinchers or hitters an alternative action. Tell them not to bite/ hit/ pinch but to kiss, stroke or cuddle you instead - show them what you mean and then give them heaps and heaps of praise and attention when they do it.

It might not work straight away, but at least you'll get a cuddle. 

Last updated: 12 months ago