Few things can make you second-guess your skills as a parent more than seeing your toddler whack another kid at a playdate or feeling him sink his teeth into your arm in a crowded checkout line. But as mortifying as these bad behaviors are, they aren't your fault, and they don't mean your child will grow up to be a bully. "Biting and hitting aren't uncommon at this developmental stage," says Miriam Schechter, M.D., a pediatrician at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore, in the Bronx, New York. "One-year-olds want to express their needs and feelings, but they don't always know how to do that without resorting to hitting and biting."
The way you react to your child's lashing out is the key to nipping it in the bud. Get down on his level, look him in the eye, and say in a calm, stern voice, "No hitting. Hitting hurts." If he does it again, remove him from the situation and put him in a one-minute time-out, suggests Dr. Schechter. "When you discipline your kid every time he hits, he'll learn that there's no excuse for violence," she says.
But don't wait until the problem intensifies to the point of a physical outburst before stepping in. Pretty much every toddler on the planet bites and hits for the same reasons, and once you know what to look for, you can steer your child away from aggressive behavior and help him share his feelings in more positive, peaceful ways. Check out four common triggers.