Maybe you’ve been there before. You pick up your child from school and notice a red indentation on their arm and their teacher informs you another child bit them. Or maybe you get a call from your preschooler’s teacher saying your child hit one of their classmates.
What’s a mama to do? First things first, don’t panic.
Why Do Preschoolers Display Aggressive Behavior?
As infuriating or scary as it can be, hitting and biting are a normal stage of development for some kids. Take heart. It’s common for toddlers between ages 1 and 3 to hit other children or even adults. One child expert even refers to the toddler years as the “hitting stage of child development.”
Here are some factors that can trigger hitting:
- Stressful situations including a new sibling, new home, new school or other changes
- Lack of vocabulary for expressing feelings verbally
- Lack of impulse control
- Undeveloped sense of compassion or empathy for others
- Not realizing that hitting hurts the other person
Biting also appears in some children, most often between ages 1 and 3, and has a number of similar causing factors:
- Teething pain
- Desire to feel powerful or get attention
- Retaliation for discipline
- Anxiety about a new or uncomfortable situation, such as meeting new people
- Jealousy toward a classmate, sibling or other child
What to Do When Another Child Bites or Hits Your Child
As a parent, it’s natural to feel anger when your child has been harmed (hello mama bear!) Here are some things you can do to ease the situation and protect your child:
- Either you or the caregiver should first and foremost examine the wound and offer any necessary medical treatment.
- Listen to your child and stay calm. Let them know it’s okay to cry and feel sad if someone hurt them. In many cases, just having mom, dad or caregiver there to listen and empathize is the most important way to help the child feel better.
- Reassure your child that hitting and biting are always wrong. Talk about some of the reasons why people hit — they may be tired, frustrated, scared or simply want attention.
- Let your child know it’s okay to walk away and stop playing with a classmate who hurts them. Encourage them to tell a trusted grown-up who can help resolve the situation.
Moving forward, talk to your child’s teacher about ways to protect your child’s safety from aggressive peers:
- Verify that the school teaches the importance of sharing toys, waiting one’s turn on the playground and other acceptable alternatives to hurting someone.
- Make sure the teacher is paying close attention to students with a history of aggressive behaviors.
- Adults should let the aggressive child talk about why they acted out. This teaches them to express their problems verbally instead of physically.
What to Do When YOUR Child Hits or Bites
What if your child is the one hitting or biting? Does it mean you have failed as a parent? No way! You shouldn’t feel guilty or defensive if your child behaves aggressively. Parents and teachers alike should treat the incident as an opportunity to teach important social and emotional skills:
- If your child hits or bites someone, you — or the teacher if it occurs at preschool — must stay calm. Firmly say “no,” immediately separate the children and make them sit down. Make sure the victim is okay and offer first aid if needed.
- Tell the aggressor that it’s okay to feel upset, but it’s never okay to hurt someone else.
- Teach the appropriate behavior: “If you want to play with your friend’s blocks, ask politely first.”
- If this is a second or subsequent offense, enforce an age-appropriate consequence such as a brief time out.
- Adults can practice prevention by noticing if a child appears to be getting tired, hungry, frustrated or upset, and intervening before the situation progresses to hitting or biting.
- Closely supervise children with a history of hitting, biting or getting in fights.
- Never hit or bite back. This teaches children that violence is okay.
If your child has persistent problems with biting, hitting or fighting, even after efforts to correct the behavior, it is advised to seek professional assistance from a pediatrician or child psychologist.
This post is sponsored by our partner Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool.