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How can I handle one-year-old bad behavior?

Our little guy is 13 months old and he has started hitting his head on the floor or into the wall.

He used to seem to hit his head just to do it, but now he does it when he gets mad. I'm not sure how to address this, or if it is even normal.

Also, he has started biting, but it does not seem to be intentional. I really do not think that he knows what he is doing. I honestly just think he is playing, but he does bite. I'm not sure how to address this either.

Elizabeth Walenz | Pediatrician

Elizabeth Walenz

It is not uncommon for one-year-old toddlers to hit their heads on the wall or floor. It certainly can be a sign of frustration. At 13 months, children understand quite a bit, but cannot always verbalize or communicate their needs, which is frustrating. 

This frustration is easy to communicate in the form of a temper tantrum or hitting their head to get attention. If children are doing this out of frustration or anger,

Step-by-step for handling tantrums

Make them safe
I will first make sure they are in a safe space where they cannot injure themselves.

Ignore the behavior
My next step is to let them work through their anger on their own and not give any attention to what is going on. 

Calmly offer help
Once they have finished their tantrum or head banging and are sniffling or tearful, I will then give them my attention. I also will tell them, "I don’t like it when you hit your head, that makes me sad. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Let’s talk about what is going on. Do you need some water? Are you hungry for a snack? Do you need your blanket?"

By addressing their needs calmly, after the tantrum, this gives the message that they can also start to address their own needs calmly and tantrums won’t necessarily get them what they want.

Toddler biting
Biting is common in this age group as well. Initially, biting can be playful for toddlers, who start to bite their mom or dad. Biting can also be associated with teething and wanting to chew on something. This is the time to eliminate this behavior.

Biting is unacceptable
If a child bites his parent when playing, I will have the parent say "NO" firmly and walk away. This often will bring tears, but will help the child to understand that biting is unacceptable. Consistently giving the message that biting is unacceptable helps the child understand that biting is not associated with anything positive. 

Praise for good behavior
Be sure to praise your child when he or she is playing well and not biting.

Help for teething
If it seems that they just want to gnaw on something, a teething ring or frozen washcloth can be appropriate. I do not advise parents to bite the child back. If we can give a negative reaction to biting and take our attention away from the child, this will usually get the message across.

Read more answers by Dr. Walenz