How do I stop my child biting or hitting others?

Babies and young children use biting and hitting for many reasons. It can be a way of exploring the world, or showing boredom or frustration. Sometimes, it’s how they’ve learned to get what they want.

Seeing your child bite or hit others or you can be upsetting, but try to stay calm. Remember to encourage the behaviours you want to see more of.

If you witness biting, separate the children immediately. Keep them apart for one or two minutes.

In a firm voice say, “No biting. Biting hurts”. Shift your attention to the child who’s hurt, and give the child who hurt the other minimal attention. Support the child who is bitten to say, “I don’t like that”.

Give your child words to resolve the conflict that led to the biting. For example, “It looks like you want a turn with the bike, so you could ask your friend – please could I have a go on the bike?” For younger children you can say the words for them. For example, “I can see you’re upset”. Let them know you understand how they feel.

Track when your child bites or hits, then tackle triggers in advance. For example, does it happen when they’re tired? Would a nap help?

Show your child other ways of dealing with emotions. Try acting these out together using toys or share books and stories about feelings. This is a good one to make a regular habit – it can help with all kinds of challenging behaviour, including tantrums.

Model positive behaviours with your partner or other family members. Younger children love to copy, so this is a good way to teach  patience or sharing.For older children (three-and-a-half and over), you can choose to introduce time out.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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