Biting, Hitting and Hair Pulling: Why it Happens

Biting, hitting and hair pulling are among the top behavioral issues among babies and toddlers.  While it may start innocently in infancy, permitting the behavior can lead to poor conduct as children grow older and know right from wrong.  Many parents are at a loss when it comes to biting, hitting and hair pulling; they don’t know why it happens or how to stop it.  Today we’re sharing the reasons why kids act aggressively and later this week we will review some tactics to resolve these common problems.


Biting, Hitting and Hair Pulling: Why it HappensBabies usually begin these misbehaviors as a tactile exploration of the world around them.  They use their mouths and hands to experience their environment and often that includes unwanted biting, hitting and hair pulling.  Sometimes all three behaviors stem from being in pain.  Because babies cannot express themselves with words, they use physical actions to cry out for help, especially if they are not feeling well.  Often babies bite because they are teething and chomping on something makes them feel better.  Babies also bite when they are hungry and may even bite during breastfeeding.

Of course, babies don’t understand that it may hurt someone else and is inappropriate.  Even if babies are unaware of their ethical and social faux pas, they should be redirected so they do not think that biting, hitting or hair pulling are acceptable.  Quashing the behavior at this young stage will help ensure it does not grow into a larger issue later.  Usually the aggressive, controllable misbehavior presents between 1½ and 2½ when language is still a hurdle but the world around them is becoming clearer.

As babies turn to toddlers and become more cognizant of their surroundings and social dynamics, they may resort to biting, hitting and hair pulling for other reasons.  They may be longing for attention or trying to exert some control over their environment.  Toddlerhood is when children begin that they have choices and may rebel against the rules and schedules their parents set forth.  Frustration can build as they are constantly told “no” or forced to do things they would rather not.  Eventually the pent-up anger can explode into aggressive behavior.  Just like adults, toddlers have their breaking points too.

Toddlers also employ biting, hitting and hair pulling to elicit a response.  Sometimes they delight in the reaction from another – seeing someone squeal in pain may be funny to them.  It sounds sadistic but it’s very normal.  Alternatively, they may be defending their territory, usually a toy or food that they want.  Although wrong, toddlers learn that biting, hitting and hair pulling will probably cause their playmate, sibling or parent to stop doing whatever it is that don’t like, even temporarily, such as playing with the toy they want or forcing them to take a bath.

Biting, hitting and pulling hair are a normal part of infancy and toddlerhood.  Understanding why your child does it is the first step to managing the situation.  Next up is employing tactics to stop the behavior and encourage more positive ways to express anger and aggression.  We’ll be exploring that topic later this week so stay tuned!