19 - 21 Months

Kicking, biting, and hitting: understanding and responding to your toddler’s tantrums

A baby and an upset young child wearing matching red shirts

Kicking, biting, and hitting are all common in toddlers, and knowing what to do can be really hard, especially when you’re in public or at someone else’s home.

These kinds of behaviors can sometimes bring out a reaction in us that we’re not expecting or proud of, like a flash of anger or speaking harshly.

Here’s what’s important to remember: Kicking, biting, or hitting doesn’t mean your child is “bad.” Nor, for that matter, is it a reflection of your parenting. When your toddler hits, they’re seeking a response, which is why your reaction matters.

Why do toddlers kick, bite and hit?

“Aggressive” is the wrong word to describe this kind of behavior—your toddler doesn’t want to hurt you. At this age, their motor skills are outpacing their social-emotional skills. If a friend grabs their toy, they can’t talk through it and problem-solve. Instead, your toddler uses what they have available—their body—to express their anger and frustration.

Sometimes when they kick, bite, or hit, they’re just experimenting to see what will happen. Almost every toddler does this at some point.

3 reasons why your child may kick, hit, or bite

  1. They don’t understand how their actions affect others. Imagining someone else’s experience requires empathy, which takes years to learn. Right now, your toddler is just beginning to realize that they are their own person. This is the first step ❤️ 
  2. They lack self-control.Your toddler’s prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that helps them make decisions and manage strong emotions, isn’t fully developed yet. 
  3. They can’t express all of their emotions. In the heat of the moment, your toddler’s strong feelings can show up in the form of a kick or a bite.

What can you do about behaviors that hurt?

Be loving, firm, and clear in your response

As gently and calmly as you can, move their hand away with a quick explanation: “Ouch. Hitting hurts. Don’t hit,” or “I won’t let you hit.” 

Validate what they’re feeling

Even if you don’t accept a certain behavior, you can validate the feelings that caused it. In a calm voice, say, “I can see that you’re really mad. Taking turns is hard, but hitting hurts and it’s not okay.”

If your toddler hit or bit another person, check in with them together

Instead of forcing your child to apologize, focus on modeling empathy by showing concern for the other person. “Hitting made your friend feel sad. They’re crying. Let’s see if we can make it better.” 

Move them away

You may have to calmly pick up your child and remove them from the scene. If you’re the one being hit, you can try putting them down, then sit on the floor behind them as you give them a firm but loving hug. The boundary this creates can be calming, and your presence reassures them that you’re there for them no matter what. You can repeat something soothing, like “Hitting is not okay, and I am here and I love you.” If your child resists being held, you can try sitting near them. 

Try to stay calm

It may be tempting to grab your child’s hand and act on your own embarrassment or anger, but this can backfire. If you respond with a loud, sharp voice, you model precisely what you’re trying to teach your child not to do. 

An overly strong reaction may also compel your toddler to recreate the scene so they can make sense of it. If they experience a moment of fear and surprise at your strong reaction, they may want to test out this new feeling.

Learn more about why tantrums happen and the best ways to get through them.


Team Lovevery Avatar

Team Lovevery

Visit site

Posted in: 19 - 21 Months, Child Development

Keep reading