typical twos strategies for biting + hitting

Toddlerhood has entered our household!

Lily isn't yet 2, but her emotions and reactions suggest she's entering the "terrible twos" early. We're okay with it - it's normal for kids her age and she is wild and hilarious and fun partly because of her extroverted personality, the same personality that may be making these "twos" even harder. So you take the bad with the good :)

We take each day as it comes and try to love on her through it because a lot of these actions are beyond her control. I mean seriously, it should be called the Typical Twos not the Terrible Twos, because every toddler I know acts similarly, and if we keep that in mind it doesn't seem so terrible. 

Biting is something Lily's done when over-tired or over-excited for near 8 months now. 
I've done some research on biting, and it appears to be most common in those two scenarios. 
See!? Typical, not terrible. 

But we still need to deal with it because she is hurting Oli and us when she bites. 
The article I read said not to overreact because that may encourage the behaviour. 
OK. Can I just tell you how much I was overreacting when Lily would bite? A lot. 
The second she bit anyone, we'd use a strong, stern voice and say NO BITING and give her a time out. That works with a lot of toddler disobedience (and I'd never call it overreacting), but biting is unique.

With biting, because it's very tied to over-excitement, over-tiredness, and emotions, strong reactions encourage and frustrate further. I could have told you that before reading the article! 
Every time we'd discipline her biting (how I just described) she would bite harder and become furious. 
She barely resembled our daughter in those moments, but we just figured she was handling the discipline poorly and to keep going. We needed a new strategy.

Something I recently tried has become our new go-to. 
It's pretty opposite from my hard-line discipline philosophy, but I can't deny that it works SO well.
You won't believe it, and I wouldn't either, if it didn't stop her from biting or hair pulling every.single.time.

I gently talk to her and give her an alternative. 

We've tried this super soft approach before with other disobedience and it's NEVER worked. 
But for biting (and hair pulling) it is brilliant.

Here's how it'll go.

[Lily about to bite Oli or Brad or I]

Me - Lily honey, (super soft voice) I know you want to bite, but you don't have to (gently touch her back, totally disarming her)

[sometimes that's enough to get her out of the trance of rage, other times we go a step further]

Me - Lily, don't bite Oli, kiss him instead.


or the other day, this scenario ACTUALLY HAPPENED...

[Lily is pulling her friend Olivia's hair and Olivia is trying to fight her off]

Me - Lily, don't pull Olivia's hair, she's your friend, hug her instead



It seems totally crazy and overly simplistic, and no it doesn't work for everything we discipline, but for random biting and hair pulling it's worked 99% of the time. Not only the gentleness but the suggestion of another action completely neutralizes the situation. It must be linked to the reason she bites to begin with. Anyway, if you have a biter or hair puller who acts up specifically when over-tired or plain old over-excited, TRY THIS.


  1. Thanks for posting Emily. I too believe I have a little girl that has been entering the "terrible/typical twos" early! It is pretty eye-opening to see that different strategies work only for different situations - its not always clear so testing stuff out like you guys have is important.

    For Hannah a big thing is her getting frustrated as she is learning and understanding more, but can't communicate as clearly as she wants, so we do not always understand what she is wanting creating more frustration and if she's overtired definitely always resulting in a meltdown of screams and kicking! For this the soft voice and hand on her seems to work the best. Its hard to see her so frustrated and not be able to understand,but it also helps me realize that this is such a crazy time for our toddlers as they are learning how to act, how to communicate and everything in between!

    1. Great point. This has encouraged us greatly too. We figured we were dead in the water when we learned we couldn't spank (we see it work for a lot of our friends), but upon trying out all these techniques, I'm realizing that even if we could spank, it would probably only be one tool in the arsenal, and not used frequently. And if we used it as our only discipline strategy, we likely wouldn't see consistent success anyhow!

  2. So glad to know I am not the only Momma struggling with these issues. My first was speaking in full sentences by the time she was 1.5 years old so we really hit the jack pot and honestly had hardly any behaviour issues at all with her. My second, my passionate, stubborn, adorable little man has only a few words at 1.5 and I can see how frustrated and upset he gets. It is hard to be patient and calm when he is screaming, hitting, throwing an yes even biting. But this post has reminded me that we honestly do get the best results when we are cool, calm and collected with and in front of him. But man is it really, really tough sometimes.

  3. Just wanted to let you know that I started using this technique with our 1.5 year old and it is working. :) I think it's the redirection of slapping to another physical action... she caught herself slapping her sister and then changed to a hug and kiss. Thanks for sharing this tip...

  4. Mama Jasoomani has a HUGE crush on you. You should know that.
    she loves your love for the kiddos.

  5. I'm with Mama Jasoomani!
    Love you guys. Can't wait to be a regular part of yours and your kiddo's lives!
    "Aunty Morgy and Unky Sammy"

  6. Anonymous20.6.12

    Hey Emily, good thoughts. We have our 4th kid entering the 2's and we found the alternative approach never really worked for us. Especially for our oldest. I know you think he's really cute but he could also be pretty stubborn. He was pretty smart so when he made up his mind to bite or hit he was pretty serious about doing it. Spanking never really worked for us either probably because I don't like doing it and I was never really willing to make it hurt anyway. What we did find effective though was "the crab". ou can try it out on Brad. Just grab the arm and give a little pinch behind the tricep. A little pinch goes a long way (you can pinch Brad pretty hard to demonstate) but after one or 2 times all we had to say was "Do you want the crab" or grab their arm gently and they know what is coming if they don't stop.

  7. This is really neat! Though I don't have kids the approach definitely makes alot of sense that they are so excited and overstimulated and need those emotions to be directed in a way that won't cause harm.