When Your Toddler Bites

| February 11, 2013 | 18 Comments

baby making a faceI was recently at a playground and witnessed a biting incident between two toddlers. Like all biting incidents, it happened very quickly and no one was the wiser until the bitee let out a shriek, so I’m not sure what provoked the bite. As I often do when I’m around misbehaving teeny ones, I was briefly thankful that I’m not in that phase of mothering any longer. While neither of my kids were habitual biters, my son did bite my daughter a time or two when they were very little. (I don’t remember my daughter ever biting back, but she was a pincher, so I’m sure she got him back at some point!)

If you have a biting toddler, it can be very frustrating, but nothing is wrong with you or your child; it’s just a phase that many children go through. While waiting for it to pass, though, here are some ways to cope (and to help little victims cope as well!) when a toddler bites:

  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cliche, yes, but also true. Kids tend to bite when they’re hungry, tired, getting sick or cranky. While you can’t always predict when kids will get crabby and take a chomp out of an unwitting playmate, you can reduce the occurrences by scheduling playdates around your child’s regular naps and mealtimes. If he’s out of sorts due to a cold, try not to invite a little friend over until he’s over the illness (or over the biting stage). Of course, when your child is biting you, avoiding him when he’s tired, sick or hungry isn’t going to work. In that case, you’ll need to just watch carefully for signs that he’s going to bite, and try to redirect him quickly if you think that’s the case!
  • Once she’s old enough, teach her to use her words. Biting often is a toddler’s way of saying, “I’m frustrated!” Show her that she can say, “no!” or “I’m mad!” if she’s feeling that way. Respect her feelings. That doesn’t mean that you need to give her whatever she wants, but you could say, “I know that you’re mad,” or “I know you wish you could have the doll that Rachel is playing with. Let’s find another doll, and maybe you could trade in a few minutes.” She might not understand everything that you’re saying, but she will know that her feelings are being validated, and that might make her less likely to bite.
  • React calmly when the inevitable occurs. Tell your child, “No, we don’t bite,” without yelling, and focus your attention on the victim. Remove your child from the situation as soon as possible. Later on, you can say, “It really hurt Tommy when you bit him. Biting hurts. We do not bite our friends.” By not giving him positive or negative attention at the time of the biting, he’ll lose interest if he’s been biting as an attention-getting strategy (sometimes kids will settle for negative attention if they don’t feel like they’re getting the positive attention that they want at any given moment).
  • Don’t bite your child back. I think all parents of a biting child hear this advice at least once. It’s not a good idea, and it does not set a good example of appropriate conflict resolution for your child.

Remember, this too shall pass. Once your child starts preschool, peer pressure will often nip any residual biting in the bud; kids will avoid a biter, and your child should catch on quickly that biting is not a way to make (or keep) friends. If biting persists past the age of four or so, check with your child’s pediatrician to make sure that something else isn’t going on.

Have you dealt with biting? Do you have any good tips to share for when a toddler bites?

Comments (18)

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  1. Lilia Kharabora says:

    Really good advice! Thank you!

  2. Tania B says:

    Great advice. I’ve often wondered how effective biting the child back really would be!

  3. MD Kennedy says:

    Funny in a way – other than teaching him to use words, the rest of the tips were the same I used ot get my cat to stop nipping us!

  4. Sonya Morris says:

    I did have a little one who was a biter. I don’t remember how we got her to stop. Thank goodness she didn’t bite anyone but me!

  5. Bill Elliott says:

    That is great advice, mine son’s identical twins are going through this phase. I will pass this on to him

  6. She says:

    Never had a biter but punchers yes..they loved to fight. In fact, they still do.

  7. Sandy McFadden says:

    Thank you for the info neither of my kids were biters but they both were victims of biters so being on the other side sometimes is just as frustrating as for the parent who has the biter.

  8. Anne C says:

    Great tips! I always thought babies bite when their teeth are growing. They needed to bite on something to relieve the itch. 😀

  9. lisa says:

    My son was like an animal. He would bite down til he drew blood. One day he just stopped. He wanted attention I think. When I started to ignore it he lost interest.

  10. Michael Lambert says:

    Thank you for the advice. We are going through a toddler biting now, but it isn’t to bad.

  11. Stephanie Dake Thompson says:

    My youngest grandson was biting a lot for a while and then he finally quit and we are thinking that it was because he was getting so many teeth coming in at the same time it felt good to him. And he is able to communiacate better now also.

  12. Ari says:

    Really good advice. I can imagine it’s easier to over-react in these kinds of situation but these tips explain exactly why that would be ineffective and just give mixed or wrong signals to the biting child.

  13. Sandie W says:

    My sons babysitter’s son bit him once so hard it left teeth marks for days. She saw it as soon as my son started to scream and bit her son back (not hard, but enough) and he never bite again.

  14. Sita Madu - Wynn says:

    Great advise , thanks for sharing 🙂

  15. Christina Kelbel says:

    My son bit me once or twice when he was younger but no other children that I know of.

  16. Ranu Tanu says:

    Oh I can’t wait for this phase to pass out. My LO is going through it right now and it is so frustrating! Thank you for your tips. I’m trying to follow them as much as I can 🙁

  17. deborah godbolt says:

    i remember when my eldest daughter was small there was a certain little girl who was my friends daughter and my dee-anne used to bite her when we wernt looking it got so embarrassing i stopped going to their house to visit and her husband started to get nasty to me

  18. Chelesa sims says:

    My son went through that phase but quickly stopped. Great ideas .

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