Pregnancy and baby

Struggling with your child's behaviour?

How do I stop my child hitting, biting and fighting? (6 to 30 months)

Media last reviewed: 11/02/2013

Next review due: 11/02/2015

There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. All parents have bad days, and most go through phases when one bad day seems to follow another.

Most children go through periods of being awkward about certain things. The most common are dressing, eating or going to bed.

If you’re tired or moody, or if your child is tired or difficult, it can be hard to get on well together all day. You can end up arguing non-stop. Even the smallest thing can make you angry. If you go out to work it’s especially disappointing when the short amount of time you’ve got to spend with your child is spoilt by arguments.

If your child knows they’re making you cross and upset, their behaviour may become even worse. This makes you more upset so they carry on behaving badly, and so on.

Ways to help with your child's behaviour

  • Change the timetable. If you’re going through a bad patch, a change of routine or a change in the way you deal with things can be enough to stop the cycle of difficult behaviour. An argument that always happens when you perform a particular task may not happen if you do the same task at another time. Try to do the difficult things when your child isn’t tired or hungry, or when they're most co-operative. For example, try dressing them after breakfast instead of before, or have lunch earlier than you normally would.
  • Find things that your child enjoys and do them together. It doesn’t have to be special or expensive. Go for a swim, to the library or to play in the park. Let your child know that you’re happy when they’re happy. They’ll start to learn that a happy parent is more fun to be with than an angry one.
  • Ask yourself whether it really matters. Having an argument or telling your child off can become a habit. Sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t. 
  • Say sorry. When you lose your temper because you’re tired or upset, apologise. You’ll both feel better for it.
  • Remember, all children are different. Some like sitting still and being quiet, while others want to learn and explore. If your child is active, the best thing you can do is give them as many opportunities as possible to explore safely.
  • Remember, the way you and your partner behave has an effect on your child. If you and your partner are having difficulties, contact Relate.
  • Young children are still learning. Children under three can’t always understand and remember what they should and shouldn’t do. Even after this age it’s hard for a child to remember instructions.
  • No one’s perfect. You’re not perfect and neither is your child. It's important not to expect too much of yourselves.
  • Look after yourself. Looking after young children can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Having some time to yourself can help you cope better. Have an early night and talk to someone about how you’re feeling.

Talk about your child's behaviour

It helps to talk to and spend time with other people, especially other parents. It’s often only other parents who understand. They may look calm and capable from the outside (and are probably thinking the same about you), but they get angry and frustrated too.

If you don’t know any other parents in your area, speak to your health visitor. They may be able to put you in touch with parents in the same position as you.

A local parenting group can provide a good opportunity to chat. (See the Family Lives website for more information.) Groups don’t suit everybody, but they can be a good way of making friends and spending time with people who’ve got children the same age as you. If the first group you try doesn’t suit you, it’s worth trying another one.

If every day has been a bad day for a while and you feel that things are getting out of control, get some help. Talk to your health visitor or phone a helpline. Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can be the first step towards making things better.

Confidential support and advice for child behaviour problems

Sometimes you may have other problems. If you’re miserable, trying to be happy for your child’s sake may seem impossible. You can always talk confidentially to:

  • your GP
  • your health visitor
  • Family Lives (0808 800 2222)
  • NSPCC Helpline (0808 800 5000)

Further information


Postnatal depression

Mums who have had postnatal depression talk about the feelings they faced, and perinatal psychiatrist Dr Margaret Oates explains how it can be treated quickly with the right help.

Media last reviewed: 16/09/2013

Next review due: 16/09/2015

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015

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Media last reviewed: 11/03/2013

Next review due: 11/03/2015

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