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Why Do Toddlers Bite?

Why Do Toddlers Bite?

With school letting out for the summer, you may see more instances of biting. Here’s what we know.

Biting is a very common behavior among toddlers. The good news is that there is a lot that parents and caregivers can do to reduce and, eventually, eliminate biting.

Children bite in order to cope with a challenge or fulfill a need. Try your best to understand why the child is biting. This makes it more likely that you will be successful in eliminating the behavior.

There are many reasons why toddlers might bite:

  • They may have trouble expressing their feelings,

  • “I am so mad at you”

  • “You are standing too close to me”

  • “I am really excited”

  • “I want to play with you”

  • They are overwhelmed

  • Experimentation, “What will happen if...?”

  • They need more large motor activities

  • They are tired

  • They are teething

  • They need oral stimulation

How can I prevent biting from happening?

Watch the child as they are playing, and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What happened right before the bite?

  • Who was the child playing with?

  • Who was bitten? Is it always the same child, or different children each time?

  • What was the child doing?

  • Where was the child?

  • Who was caring for the child?

If you see signs that the child might be on the verge of biting:

  • Distract the child. You can use a book or toy or have the child look out the window

  • Model appropriate ways to use language, “I don’t like that you are standing so close to me.”

  • Show the child how to share. Biting happens, frequently, when a toy is being fought over. Showing the child how to share and take turns may help alleviate their frustration and could prevent the biting.

What to do when a toddler bites.

  • First, keep your own feelings in check. Reacting negatively to a child that has bitten may only increase the occurrence of the biting behavior.

  • In a firm, matter-of-fact voice (not angry or yelling), say: No biting. Also, comment on how the other child is feeling, “Look, this child is crying because you bit them, and biting hurts.

  • Next, shift your attention to the child who was bitten. This will help the child who bit learn empathy.

  • If your child is able to talk about his experiences, go back and talk with him about the different strategies he can use next time, instead of biting: For example, if the child wants to play with another child have them ask, “Will you play with me?”

  • Help the children move on. Ask each child what they would like to do next.

What will not work to stop biting?

  • Harsh punishments or shaming. This may actually increase the occurrence of biting. This will also not help the child develop the social skills needed to cope with situations that cause biting.

  • Biting the child back. This behavior teaches the toddler that biting is okay when you are upset. Biting the child back is considered child abuse.

Remember, learning a new behavior takes time. Your toddler may bite again, so continue watching playtime closely. It also helps to use the same words (No biting. Biting hurts.) as consistently as possible to emphasize the message.

Information from
Picture from
“Teeth are not for biting” by Elizabeth Verdick

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