Recently, I’ve been talking to parents about their baby or toddler hitting and how on Earth we get them to stop.

“My baby is a great learner! Look at all the things they can do today that they couldn’t even do yesterday! Why can they not learn that I don’t like to be hit?! Every time I tell them ‘no’ they just laugh and carry on anyway”

SPOILER ALERT: It is not your fault. You are not doing anything wrong. Every parent goes through this.

You’re totally right, babies are great at learning. What they do not yet have the skills to do is control their impulses. They just haven’t got that part of their brain yet. They also have no idea that they are actually hurting you.

So get ready for repetition… lots and lots of repetition AND distraction


“I won’t let you hit me”

“I won’t let you bite me”

“Shut the draw” “Thank you” “Shut the draw” “Thank you” “Shut the draw” “Thank you” “Shut the draw” “Thank you” and on… and on… and on… it goes



Again, babies cannot control their impulses so they need help from you. They need your help to stop them doing things and the best and gentlest way of doing this is to move them away and engage them with something else.

Have a toy on hand, take them to look out of the window, take them to a different room.

Stop what you’re doing

In instances where distraction won’t work, try a natural consequence.

As an example, when my baby is teething, they like to bite my shoulder. Needless to say, I don’t enjoy this. Telling them not to does not work and I can’t engage in something else because my shoulder remains available.

So, instead, I say ‘I won’t let you bite me. If you carry on, I’ll have to put you down’. Of course, they don’t understand but I put them down anyway. If they get upset, I pick them back up – the aim of this is not to punish. It is to disrupt and show a natural consequence – I cannot hold them if I am hurt.

If they bite again, I put them back down – again with the repetition.

The same can be done for biting when breastfeeding, for example.

Looking at the root cause

Prevention is always better than cure so if you can work out what it is that is appealing about that behaviour to your child, we can help to prevent it.

For example, one thing babies are exceptional at picking up on is ‘what gets people to notice me?’ ‘What gets people to interact with me?’ ‘How can I get the most attention the most quickly?’ (see the importance of connection here).

A means of connecting

If your baby learns that doing this thing (e.g. opening the draw) gets a specific reaction from you they will:

  • want to test that out and see if it always happens
  • use that as a way of telling you ‘I want you to notice me right now’
  • or as a way of telling you ‘I need your help in directing my behaviour right now’
A way of managing pain

This could be the case with, for example, biting or screaming. It may be that your child is actually hurting and they don’t know how to tell you.

A way of getting you to stop

If your child is hitting you, it may be that you are doing something that they don’t like and they can’t tell you to stop. Of course, this often happens with children and we have no choice – nappy changing is a common problem.

Can you look at the situation and think about what it might be that your child particularly doesn’t like? Is there anything you can do to make it more fun? Can you involve a toy? Or nursery rhymes/singing?

Modelled behaviour

Children do what they see. Sometimes – and I really stress that this is sometimes not always – children who are behaving in aggressive ways are seeing a lot of aggression. I would not be doing my job properly if I did not highlight this and I want to emphasise that babies and toddlers are just feelings and they do what they feel.

How do I stop it becoming a habit?

Again, children do what they see and what is done to them. If you are consistently calm, empathetic and supportive (as much as possible, no one achieves this all of the time), your child will do the same.

If you help your child to calm down, communicate what’s going on for them and redirect their behaviour, they will learn to do that.

With babies and toddlers, you will have to do the communication for them:

“I think you’re angry because Mummy won’t let you do X”

“You really want to look in that draw”

Support for you

When our children challenge us, we can start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. What do you need at these times? How can you take care of yourself when your child is challenging you?