How to Deal with Hair Pulling and Biting in Toddlers

Last Update: April 24, 2024

Hair pulling and biting are common behaviors among toddlers that can be challenging for parents to navigate. It’s important to understand that these behaviors often stem from curiosity, frustration, or a lack of impulse control rather than malice.

When it comes to hair pulling, toddlers may be fascinated by the texture and appearance of hair, especially if it’s curly or different from their own. They may grab and pull hair out of an interesting touch, not realizing that it can cause pain or discomfort to others.

Biting, on the other hand, is often a response to frustration or a desire to assert control. When a toddler feels overwhelmed or unable to express their emotions, they may resort to biting as a coping mechanism. It’s also important to note that biting can be a physiological response to frustration, as the tension in the jaw and mouth can feel satisfying to a child.

Responding to Hair Pulling and Biting

Stopping the Behavior in the Moment

When you see your toddler pulling someone’s hair or about to bite, it’s crucial to intervene quickly and calmly. Instead of saying “I can’t let you do that” or making a big deal out of the situation, try using phrases like “Oops, let me help you with that” or “Let me help you let go of their hair.” This approach acknowledges that your child may not have intended to cause harm and offers support in stopping the behavior.

If your child has already bitten someone, focus on comforting the other child and apologizing to them and their parent. Say something like, “I’m really sorry that happened. I know that hurts.” This models empathy and shows your child that biting is not acceptable behavior.

Addressing the Underlying Emotions

After stopping the behavior, it’s important to address your child’s underlying emotions without shaming them. Recognize that your child may be feeling frustrated, impatient, or overwhelmed. You can say something like, “You seem a bit frustrated. Do you want to take a break?” or “I see that you’re feeling impatient. Can we ask the other child if you can go first?”

By acknowledging your child’s feelings and offering solutions, you help them develop healthy coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills.

Providing a Safe Space

If your child is in a situation where they are repeatedly pulling hair or biting, it may be helpful to remove them from the environment and provide a safe space to calm down. This is not a punishment, but rather a coping mechanism.

Find a quiet corner or area where your child can sit with you and observe their surroundings without being in the middle of the action. Hold them lovingly, stroke their back, and help them regulate their emotions. This teaches them that it’s okay to take a break when they feel overwhelmed and that you are there to support them.

Moving Forward

Remember that hair pulling and biting are normal behaviors for toddlers, and it’s not a reflection of your parenting skills. As your child grows and develops, they will learn to better control their impulses and express their emotions in healthier ways.

Continue to model gentle touch, empathy, and problem-solving skills in your daily interactions. Praise your child when they use words to express their feelings or find alternative ways to cope with frustration.

With patience, understanding, and consistent guidance, your toddler will eventually outgrow these challenging behaviors. In the meantime, focus on creating a loving and supportive environment where they feel safe to explore and learn.