What to Do When a Child Bites or Hits at Preschool

You notice a red mark on your child’s cheek after preschool. When you ask her what happened, she replies “Stacy bit me.”

Or you find out that your child recently had an argument over a toy in which he hit his classmate.

As disturbing as it can be, hitting and biting are a normal stage of development for some kids. Why do these aggressive behaviors occur at preschool, and how should adults respond to both the victim and the aggressor?

What Causes Aggressive Behavior in Preschoolers?

It is common for children under 5, especially toddlers between ages 1 and 3, to hit other children or even adults. One child expert even refers to the toddler years as the “hitting stage of child development.” There are several things that can trigger hitting:

  • Stressful situations including a new sibling, new home, new school or other changes
  • Lack of vocabulary for expressing feelings verbally
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Undeveloped sense of compassion or empathy for others
  • Not realizing that hitting hurts the other person

Aggressive biting also appears in some children, most often between ages 1 and 3, and has a number of similar potential causes:

  • Teething pain
  • Desire to feel powerful or get attention
  • Retaliation for discipline
  • Anxiety about a new or uncomfortable situation, such as meeting new people
  • Jealousy toward a classmate, sibling or other child

What to Do About Another Child Hitting or Biting Your Child

As a parent, it’s natural to feel upset when your child has been harmed. However, there are things you can do to ease the situation and protect your child.

  • Either you, or the teacher if the incident happens at preschool, should first examine any cuts, bruises or bites and offer basic first aid or other medical treatment if needed.
  • Listen to your child and stay calm. Let them know it’s okay to cry and feel sad if someone hurt them. In many cases, just having mom, dad or caregiver there to listen and empathize is the most important way to help the child feel better.
  • Reassure your child that hitting and biting are always wrong. Talk about some of the reasons why people hit — they may be tired, frustrated, scared or simply want attention.
  • Let your child know it’s okay to walk away and stop playing with a classmate who hurts them. Encourage them to tell a trusted grown-up who can help resolve the situation.

Moving forward, talk to your child’s teacher about ways to protect your child’s safety from aggressive peers.

  • Verify that the school teaches the importance of sharing toys, waiting one’s turn on the playground and other acceptable alternatives to hurting someone.
  • Make sure the teacher is paying close attention to students with a history of aggressive behaviors.
  • Adults should let the aggressive child talk about why they acted out. This teaches them to express their problems verbally instead of physically.

What to Do When Your Child Bites or Hits Another Child

What if your child is the one hitting or biting? Does it mean you have failed as a parent?

Absolutely not! There’s no need to feel guilty or defensive if your child behaves aggressively. Parents and teachers alike should treat the incident as an opportunity to teach important social and emotional skills.

  • If your child hits or bites someone, you — or the teacher if it occurs at preschool — must stay calm. Firmly say “no,” immediately separate the children and make them sit down. Make sure the victim is okay and offer first aid if needed.
  • Tell the aggressor that it’s okay to feel upset, but it’s never okay to hurt someone else.
  • Teach the appropriate behavior: “If you want to play with your friend’s blocks, ask politely first.”
  • If this is a second or subsequent offense, enforce an age-appropriate consequence such as a brief time out.
  • Adults can practice prevention by noticing if a child appears to be getting tired, hungry, frustrated or upset, and intervening before the situation progresses to hitting or biting.
  • Closely supervise children with a history of hitting, biting or getting in fights.
  • Adults must never hit back. That teaches kids that violence is okay, which is the opposite of what we want them to learn.

If your child has persistent problems with biting, hitting or fighting, even after efforts to correct the behavior, consider seeking professional assistance from a pediatrician or child psychologist.

At Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool ®, we understand that social-emotional skills are just as important as learning one’s ABC’s and 123’s. Our Creatively Shine™ curriculum promotes cooperation, self-awareness and respect for others.

All of our teachers receive ongoing training that includes age appropriate discipline for toddlers and preschoolers, so your child’s teacher will know how to respond to aggressive behavior.

If you have questions, please contact a location near you to schedule a visit.

You can learn more from our previous blog posts:

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers and Toddlers  

How Little Sunshine’s Playhouse® Promotes Social Skills for Preschoolers  

Wondering What to Look for in a Preschool?