Big Emotions

The Easiest Way to Deal With a Kid Who Hits, Kicks or Bites

Inside this post: Learn what to do when your child hits you. Effectively stop your child from hurting others without yelling, time out or getting physical.

I literally stepped out of the room for 20 seconds. That’s the amount of time it took for my oldest to tackle his little sister while she proceeded to whack him in the head. The two wrangled on the floor as I attempted to separate them.

Both kids were screaming. I was frustrated. And I would’ve given my tallest cup of black coffee and a biscotti to anyone who could make it stop. I just kept wondering why is my child so angry and aggressive?

Related: The Most Powerful Way to Help Jealous Siblings

Why kids hit, bite and kick.

When kids struggle to find words such as “I don’t like that” or “please stop” or “pay attention to me,” they will turn to hitting, kicking, biting and pushing to help others hear what they are trying to say.

From ages three and below, it’s especially normal to see aggressive behavior in kids. They live in a very physical world of communication that is often lacking in words.

When you get to ages four to seven, it’s also pretty normal to see aggressive behavior from time to time. Especially when kids get tired, frustrated, or in general, do not feel heard and understood.

What to do when your child hits you? Use this positive parenting approach to stop biting, hitting, kicking or other aggressive behavior. #stopbiting #stophiting #stopkicking #stopaggressivebehavior #positiveparenting #peacefulparenting #respectfulparenting #parentingtoddlers

It’s almost always about power.

The main reason you will see any child (or adult!) try to hit, kick or bite someone is to feel a sense of power and control.

This is why when you tell kids to “stop that” or ask “why are you hitting?” or “how many times have I told you not to hit?” or put kids in time out, you will often see more aggression, screaming or even laughing at you.

This is the child continuing to try and fill their need for power because that need wasn’t met yet.

So…what’s the solution?

Here’s what to do when your child hits you.

Hitting, biting or kicking each other is never okay, and we always try to nip this behavior in the bud asap. In the past we’ve used these toddler biting strategies and empathetic parenting, and while those things do work, the 3-step method I’m going to share is by far the fastest I’ve ever tried.

It’s worked beautifully when I’ve used it at the playground or social gatherings when kids get into squabbles.

This is a Language of Listening® approach. You can read more about in this 3-step coaching method here.

Step 1: Put your arm out.

This isn’t specifically part of the method, but each time I see aggressive behavior, I always intervene using the least amount of physical intervention needed.

This usually looks like me placing an arm between the kids to block them from continuing to hit or kick. The majority of the time (like 90%) I don’t need to touch either child, unless there is some major hurt or pummeling going on.

Related: How to Teach Kids to Listen Without Using Words


“You’re hitting AND he doesn’t like that.”

“You’re angry AND it’s not okay to hit people.”

Step 3: Offer a CAN DO.

“You can hit this pillow / chair / stuffed animal over here.”

“You can play more gently. Show me gentle play.”

Offering a CAN DO that allows the child to act out their hiting, kicking or biting in a safe way is the easiest and quickest way to help them feel a sense of power while still keeping everyone safe!

Step 4: Name those STRENGTHS.

“You found a way to play well together. That shows you’re cooperative.”

“You hit the chair. That’s right! You know what to hit. You kept everyone safe.”

“You bit the stuffed animal. That’s right. You know what to bite without hurting anyone!”

“You were so angry about xyz. You really wanted to hit me, but you hit the chair instead. That took a ton of self-control!”

This works incredibly well.

In the moment, this 3-step coaching method is an amazing tool where everybody wins. I also love using this at the playground or when other kids are around because—again—everybody wins.

The child gets to hit, kick or bite to fill their need for power or express any anger or frustration they need to get out. And the parent or teacher or caregiver avoids yelling or getting physical with the kids.

More tools to use when your child hits you.

If you are seeing a pattern of aggressive behavior, there are some awesome ways to work on this when everyone is calm. Kids are best able to learn when they aren’t revved up, upset or frustrated. Working on these things ahead of time made a world of difference for our family.

Read books on empathy.

Teaching empathy to kids is a key component for peaceful and kind behavior, and it’s the number one thing that ultimately helped stop our toddler from biting in the long run.

Here are several books to help…

Practice taking care of a doll.

This is great for both girls and boys. Help your child practice gentle and kind behavior towards a doll in different play scenarios. You could even act aggressively towards the doll and your child could help you make a better choice through play. Allowing your child to teach YOU…that is learning and understanding at the highest level.

Dolls we love for boys and girls…

Get a punching bag or biting bear.

Have toys in the house that are specifically for biting and hitting. Then each time the child bites or hits, direct them towards the toy that is safe to act aggressively towards.

This is key.

While this 3-step coaching method won’t prevent aggressive behavior from ever happening again–kids are always learning–but it is amazing to watch our oldest stop himself most of the time from hitting and biting others, while reaching for a couch cushion, toy or other object to hit and bite when he needs to get it all out.

The best part is I didn’t have to give away all my coffee and biscotti to find someone to stop the hitting. Talk about a win-win.

Print this free printable!

Chances are you won’t remember all the phrases talked about in this post. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you! This post comes with a free printable to help you remember the easy coaching method.

Here’s a sneak peak…

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Download Your Free Printable

  1. Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly parenting newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
  2. Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
  3. Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!

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  1. Just curious, Loren, about your recommendations for toys – kids using the socker bopper toy are still hitting each other with them. Even if they are not hurting each other, they are still hitting each other. Doesn’t that sort of give a mixed message that could be translated to “it doesn’t hurt me, so I can use it on someone else without regard to if that same thing could hurt someone else? Example: someone who is very touch sensitive feels physical hurt much differently than someone who isn’t as touch sensitive, thus the socker bopper could actually be painful to that person while not being painful to the less touch sensitive person, no matter what age. Thus the mixed message of don’t hurt others by hitting & it’s ok to hit with something that doesn’t hurt, though it may hurt someone to be hit with something from which the hitter doesn’t feel pain him/herself. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for bringing that up Penny and giving me the chance to clarify. While socker boppers are marketed to hit others that is not how I recommend using them. I would use the socker boppers to allow kids to hit the walls, furniture or whatever the parent is okay with. If you are struggling with a child hitting, I would not allow the child to hit others even in a play situation. This is mainly because–like you said–the child is going to struggle to differentiate when it is okay to hit people and when it is not. Much preferred to just make a plain and simple rule that hitting, kicking or biting **people** is never okay. However, using them to hit the bed or a chair could work beautifully. I should also clarify that these can be used as a tool for when kids are already hitting and need an alternative to help them “get it all out.” If a child isn’t hitting, getting toys that encourage hitting likely won’t help the cause in the long run. Hope this helps answer your comment! Thanks again!

  2. What about the idea that this form of redirection amounts to still biting or still hitting? This is still violence as a way to cope?

    1. You’re right, Jenn, this absolutely still amounts to biting and hitting. Initially this is a great place to start, and over time, you can start to coach the child to use other types of calm down methods. The child may even develop their own calm down methods if given the chance. It might sound something like…”You’re angry AND you want to hit something. There must be something you can do to calm down!” And from there, the child may come up with other ideas. If they don’t come up with their own ideas you could offer to hit a soft cushion OR take deep breaths. With regards to “violence,” I think it’s important to look at the true definition of violence which involves the intent to do harm to oneself or another person, group or community. Hitting a chair or a soft cushion, by definition, is not violence. In this type of situation, it is using a physical movement to release emotion and frustration into an inanimate object to regain a sense of power and control.

  3. Great read! Thanks, I am going to try this with my 18 month son!! I like the idea of giving safe alternative areas– so hard to think of when you are in the moment sometimes!

  4. My 2 year old son hits or pushes his 4 yr old and 21 month old sisters or throws toys at me or them whenever hes angry or frustrated. Ill have to try these tips thank you.

  5. What happened to spanking the child? Don’t y’all see that why kids act this way .when I was a child and was playing with other and someone hit the other child we got spanked .we weren’t handed a stuffed animal and told to got it .we got spanked .you said we live in a of physical world it wasn’t physically until all the so called child specialists . now the kids are mostly all mean and brats

    1. I’m sorry that you were spanked as a child. That must have felt so invalidating for you back then – to have your needs unmet in some way and to express your feelings in the only way that was available to you at the time and then to be punished for it and physically hurt by your caregivers? That must have been a heartbreaking message to learn that violence was ok as long as it was directed at you.
      It’s not unusual for people who have experienced violence to attempt to redress the balance by inflicting violence on others – particularly if you were hurt as a child to then see no issue with hurting children. The adage that ‘I was spanked and it didn’t do me any harm’ could be refuted by pointing out that it may well have done harm if you are content to physically hurt children as a consequence.
      Perhaps if you had been treated with the kindness and understanding that you deserved as a child, you would feel more compassion towards other children who also, ultimately, need kindness and understanding.
      I hope that you are able to find peace with your own upbringing and that you able to act towards others with the gentleness which was denied to you.

  6. I tried getting you stop biting and hitting worksheet sent to my email and no luck.
    Please contact me when you can.

  7. My 7-year old was hitting me about once a week. If I tried to put him in time out or in his room it would just escalate the behaviour (where I would have to pick him up with him hitting me). I read something on a website that finally worked for me. It was to say in a really matter of fact non-confrontational voice, “I don’t hang out with people that act like that” and walk away, lock my bedroom door and read a book. After about 5 minutes he would come and apologize through the door. I would thank him and tell him that I wasn’t ready to hang out yet. I would then spend about 10 minutes reading before I came out. I would do this calmly because I wanted him to spend his time feeling bad about not being able to be with me, instead of feeling angry. We did this about 3 times and he hasn’t hit me since (~6 months).

  8. I have a 9 year old boy with borderline ADHD and ODD. When he’s upset and gets past a certain point, he becomes physically aggressive and destructive. He hits, bites, scratches and throws things and he damages walls, doors and furniture. At the end of it all he is exhausted and in tears. He is almost 70 lbs and very athletic. How do I handle this kind of behavior? It I walk away, he follows. If I lock myself in a room, he attacks the door until it’s broken. When he was younger, your strategies may have helped. But now here we are, and I don’t know what to do. I try to remain calm, I have tried restraining him, tried keeping him in his room, but he will keep fighting until he’s exhausted. This only happens a couple of times a month, and sometimes I can catch it before it gets out of control. But once it’s out of control, I am at a loss. He’s an intelligent, funny and loving child most of the time. But when this happens he can’t stop, he’s even told me he can’t calm down. I would be grateful for any advice you might have.

    1. This is very hard and feels awful to everyone involved. A strategy that may work is to put all your energy into observing triggers and then redirecting before the gasoline has a chance to be dumped on the proverbial fire. In a school setting, a child who lashes out like this might be given a behavior aide. That aide watches them closely, gets to know as many things that trigger the rage, and acts quickly to remove the child from situations that may trigger rage. If the rage fit comes on strong, the aide has a different set of strategies specific to the child’s needs. I’ve seen an aide bear hug a child. I’ve seen an aide take a child away from the situation to an empty area, stand 10 feet away, and allow the child to stomp and jump but not to destroy property, for as long as it takes for them to quiet again. The child is allowed to jump, stomp, fist pump the air, but all other actions are discouraged.

      Identify the triggers, watch keenly for them, act quickly to redirect and remove the child before escalation, or if during escalation, make sure the child is somewhere so that they can’t destroy property or harm you. Practice beforehand. Have the child jump, stomp, pace. Teach those behaviors.

      This will take regular repetition and is not solved or cured right away so be prepared to do it many times. It’s a big learning curve for the child and for you. Good luck.

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