Infant aggression

By Dominique Groenveld , Oh Beehave

Pinching, hair pulling, biting, hitting. Here is how you can stop it without pinching, hitting or biting back.

Unfortunately, a lot of little ones go through a stage where they communicate using some form of aggressive behaviour such as pinching, pulling hair, biting or hitting.

When behaviours such as this are displayed, it can be difficult to avoid our natural reflexes (such as pinching, hitting, pulling hair or biting back), particularly in a moment of frustration, when it feels like there’s just no other option, and all you want is for the behaviour to just stop there and then - especially if your little one has really hurt you!

If your little one is displaying one of these behaviours, take comfort in the knowledge that most mother’s report that their children start using some form of physical force such as biting, pinching, scratching or hitting from around 6 months of age.

It is thought that these actions are used as a form of communication, as an interim solution until they have developed the verbal skills to tell their parent/s what is they are after, or frustrated about.

The good news is that most children will stop these behaviours when they are around 3-4 years of age… but what do you do about it between then and the 17520 hours or so until they “grow out of it”?

A couple of simple and easy to implement solutions include:

Firm hands

This one is particularly helpful for pinching, hitting, or hair pulling. Each time your little one displays one of these behaviours, hold their hands firmly and say “Stop - pinching hurts.” 

Substitute the word “pinching” for hitting, or hair pulling as needed.
If biting is the issue, move your child away from the person they are biting and say “Stop - biting hurts”.


Empathising with a child (e.g. showing them you understand they are mad, sad, angry, upset or frustrated) can help them understand, manage and develop the capacity to self-regulate their emotions.

Using the pinching example, empathising with the infant might sound something like:

“I know you’re frustrated, but pinching is not the way to tell me that” or “Show me what you want instead”.

Most children can understand more language than they can speak (imagine it’s a bit like when you learn a new language… often you can understand what is being said before you start developing the skills to respond in the same language).

Research has found that the more a parent or caregiver empathises with an infant, the less likely the infant is to demonstrate behaviours such as pinching, hitting, biting etc.

Provide positive feedback

When you see your child communicate with you (or someone else) without pulling hair, pinching, hitting or biting, make sure you acknowledge it.

For example: 

“You want me to pick you up? I’m so proud of you for showing me you want up by putting your hands up and not hitting.”

Often parents (and other caregivers) will focus so much on correcting the behaviours they don’t want to see, that they will forget to praise the behaviours they do want to see.

Smaling, H.J.A., Huijbregts, S. C. J., van der Heijden K. B., Hay, D. F., van Goozen, S. H. M., & Swaab, H. (2017). Prenatal Reflective Functioning and Development of Aggression in Infancy: The Roles of Maternal Intrusiveness and Sensitivity. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 45. pp. 237–248

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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