18 month old tantrum/hitting

Hi everyone,

I’m a pediatric occupational therapist and also first time mom. I work with elementary school kids so everything with my toddler is new! I saw the post yesterday about tantrums and I am in the same boat- I’m at a loss. My son will be 18 months old next week. Obviously because of covid he unfortunately isn’t around other kids often. The past few months every time he is around a child around his age he smacks them in the face or bite them. We tell him how we don’t hurt other children etc… but every chance he gets he does it. Lately he also has been banging his head on the floor or crib where if something happens that he does not necessary get what he wants he does it- it seems like he’s looking for a reaction from us. I immediately stop him from hurting himself. ( if we put him to bed he might hang his head or if I’m in the kitchen and I can’t pick him up or if I’m in my office working I hear him banging on my door with his head!!) I’m at a loss, it breaks my heart and I don’t know how he learned this behavior . To add he isn’t very verbal for 18 months so I’m hoping speech is a big factor and we are planning to send him to daycare next month. He says maybe ~10 words. he is so smart though. He has amazing receptive skills- follows 1-2 step directions. Its hard for me to not understand how he doesn’t get us explaining to him how biting/hitting other kids is not okay because he soaks in everything we say. Any advice or virtual hugs!

1 Like

Hey @OTmommam, welcome!

I want to start out by saying that I’ve heard this from many moms, you’re not alone. My first thought is is exactly what you mentioned, the lack of expressive language. 18 month old are in a unique stage because they can have big personalities and big emotions don’t have the capabilities to identify and express what they are thinking and feeling. I’m going to tag some amazing speech therapists and a psychologist to see if we can get more insight. Hang in there! :slight_smile:

@TinyTalkers @Speechwithjwo @abg_speechtherapy @Speechie.Morgan @Drkarenweiss

Hi Momma… sending you big hugs in what sounds like a very hard time in motherhood. I remember when mine used to do something similar. When it came to the hitting or biting, we focused on what he could do and modeled behavior. For example, “soft touch” and would show me what soft touch was. “I see you want to express some big feelings, you can hit this or you can throw this”. Also, the frustration with no being able to communicate is very hard on them. Like with any other human, I suggest naming emotions. That way baby can start by recognizing what certain things may feel like. With our little one we did a lot of baby sign language which allowed him to communicate, especially those big emotions.

1 Like

It’s not that he doesn’t " get it", it’s that he lacks the impulse control to do different, so when his feelings get to him, his body reacts, even if his mind knows he shouldn’t. He needs A LOT of practice before he gets this right, my oldest is almost 5, and we are still practicing! When he was that his go to was to hit, and he thought it was funny. Before we got to places I knew other kids would be I started talking about how we would handle situations where he might get upset. And how we weren’t going to hit our friends. Eventually, around 3 it payed off. And yes being verbal can help, but my son has always been an early talker, he could tell me when he was calm it wasn’t okay to hit, but when he got in fight-or-flight mode it was a different story. Be patient, and keep reminding yourself he has only been on the planet a year and a half!

1 Like

@tots-mary My thoughts exactly! Lots of moms talk about this concern. Covid has made this so hard too- there isn’t enough social practice for kids who need to learn the basics of social skills. The combination of understanding things, knowing what he wants, and not being able to communicate what he wants or to make it happen is super frustrating. Feelings are so big at this age, and it’s hard for toddlers to regulate their feelings. Hopefully this will resolve with age and development, especially since he’ll be going to daycare and will have more social opportunities. In the meantime, reflect his feelings: “I know you want that toy but Max is playing with it. It’s OK to be mad, but no biting. Biting hurts.” Keep in mind that head-banging looks violent, but it’s actually his way of self-soothing. You can do the same kind of thing: “You’re so mad that its nap time! it’s OK to be mad, but I can’t let you hurt yourself. I’m going to need to keep you safe.” And then you can get your hands in there to prevent him from banging on the floor. This is a rough stage! Hopefully he’ll move through it soon.

1 Like


Lots of great advice up here. “Teeth are not for biting” by Elizabeth Verdick (I love this whole series, especially Hands are Not for Hitting) is a great read to supplement when not in the moment. (It’ll just overwhelm him otherwise.)

1 Like

Just sending you a virtual hug because I can relate to your frustration. It gets better mama!!! <3

1 Like

Hi @OTmomma! I agree with what @tots-mary said. A lot of times, when children are unable to communicate, (especially when receptive language is great!) it leads to some biting and hitting behaviors as a form of expression. I would try to augment his expressive communication with some functional gestures that he can use in place of biting or hitting, such as a sign for “help” or a sign for “all done” to get rid of stressors in the environment.

I don’t know that this approach is working yet for us but what I’ve been trying to do is also tell him what he can do. So if he gets too excited and rough and hits at the playground then I remind him that we can use our hands to wave, clap, high five our friends and to be gentle. I’ve also been holding the boundary on gentle a lot more at home. It’s more work to remind him what he can do but I’m hoping it helps other than always reminding what he can’t do!