Fighting and Biting – Displays of Aggressive Behaviour

     All people have aggressive feelings. As adults, we learn how to control these feelings. Children, however, are often physically aggressive – they hit, bite and scratch others. These behaviors are fairly common and often appear by the child’s first birthday. Parents often struggle over how to manage their child’s aggressive and/or destructive behavior.

     While some biting can occur during normal development, persistent biting can be a sign that a child has emotional or behavioral problems. While many children occasionally fight with or hit others, frequent and/or severe physical aggression may mean that a child is having serious emotional or behavioral problems that require professional evaluation and intervention. Persistent fighting or biting when a child is in daycare or preschool can be a serious problem. At this age, children have much more contact with peers and are expected to be able to make friends and get along.

What to do about BITING: * Say “no”, immediately, in a calm but firm and disapproving tone. * For a toddler (1-2 years), firmly hold the child, or put the child down. * For a young child (2-3 years) say, “biting is not okay because it hurts people.” * Do NOT bite a child to show how biting feels. This teaches the child aggressive behavior.

* If biting persists, try a negative consequence. For example, do not hold or play with a child for five minutes after he or she bites.

     If these techniques or interventions are not effective, parents should talk to their family physician.

What to do about HITTING AND FIGHTING:

* It is more effective to intervene before a child starts hitting. For example, intervene as soon as you see the child is very frustrated or getting upset. * When young children fight a lot, supervise them more closely. * If a child hits another child, immediately separate the children. Then try to comfort and attend to the other child. * For a toddler (1-2 years) say, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” * For a young child (2-3 years) say, “I know you are angry, but don’t hit. Hitting hurts.” This begins to teach empathy to your child. * Do NOT hit a child if he or she is hitting others. This teaches the child to use aggressive behavior.

* Parents should not ignore or down play fighting between siblings.

     When hitting or fighting is frequent, it may be a sign that a child has other problems. If a young child has a persistent problem with fighting and biting or aggressive behavior, parents should seek professional assistance from a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of behavior problems in very young children.

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