Hitting and Biting

Dear Sharon,

My 2-year-old son has started hitting and biting other children. Usually it is over sharing, but sometimes he just walks up to them and hits them. How can I guide him through this phase, and what do I tell the other children’s parents when they are upset that their child has been bit or hit?

Thank You,


Dear Mother,

You are certainly not the only Mom or Dad who has tried to figure out what to do with a little one who hits or bites. This is not a simple question to answer but here are a few thoughts that might help.

Hitting and biting often occur when a child is overly upset or excited. Two year olds don’t always know what to do with all the joy and frustration they feel on a daily basis. These emotions can easily become heightened around other children and sometimes surface as a hit or a bite. Your son does not really decide to hit, it is much more of an impulsive response to some stimulation that sometimes only he notices. Unfortunately for now you should probably assume that anytime your son is around children he could be prone to hitting and biting. One thing to remember is that the time BEFORE your child hits or bites is in some ways more important to pay attention to than the time after the incident. Practical planning ahead is one thing that can help. If possible, talk to your parent friends to discuss guidelines for sharing and games before play dates begin.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind that can help things go better for everyone.

1. Outdoor play can be easier than indoor activities.

2. Limiting the number of “favorite” toys or setting up group activities such as baking, play dough or simple art projects can work well to ease conflict.

3. Leaving young children alone to play while adults talk can quickly breed tension.

4. Keeping play dates short can make them more successful.

5. It is helpful for your son to have successful interactions with friends, it will also be helpful to praise him for what has gone well.

6. It can be useful to slow things down when your son first comes in contact with other children. This can help him be more relaxed when he starts to play. You can stay by his side for a while, sit him on your lap when he begins interacting or pay special attention if a discussion of sharing a favorite toy starts up. Your patient understanding and guidance can make a big difference and is most likely easier to hear before rather than after he gets agitated.

7. If while you are with him he starts to “head for the other child” try to stop him in as gentle a way as possible before he makes contact. You can try coaxing him back into a more relaxed mood, possibly offering him an alternative that is fun for him to do. In the heat of the moment it may not be easy for you to stay relaxed and calm but even so you are much more likely to help him figure out how to manage the situation than the two year old in the line if fire.

Needless to say you will not be able to be there to stop every hit. Even if your son doesn’t look upset after a difficult incident it can be scary to act out in a playmate’s direction, especially if it ends with a crying friend and an upset Mom or Dad. As hard as it may be, try to remember that your son was upset before and after he loses control. Apologize to his friends and to their parents and talk to your son about his behavior in as kind a way as possible. Greeting anger with anger is usually not a good way to model how to handle difficult circumstances. Talk to other parents who have had children who have gone through periods of hitting or biting (something I strongly recommend). They will usually tell you that this stage is one your child will work through over time, especially with the help of a caring, attentive parent. Knowing that this part of your parenting will end can help you feel less alone and more relaxed, an important part of coping with your son at these times.

This is an important question for many parents, by next year your three year old will most likely have figured out lots of different ways to play with his friends. In the mean time I offer my best wishes.