How to Keep Your Toddler from Biting

Three Methods:Observing Your ToddlerResponding to Biting in the MomentTeaching Your Child Not to Bite

Biting is a normal behavior for toddlers. This is typically only a stage and can be prevented through positive reinforcement and addressing the underlying reasons for biting. Be patient when teaching your toddler not to bite. Once you develop a plan of action, be consistent with your toddler to get the best results.

Method 1
Observing Your Toddler

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    Know that biting is normal. Your toddler is biting to communicate with you. You must learn what your toddler is trying to say and then make adjustments. Although biting is normal, it is still not acceptable. Typical reasons for biting include:[1][2]
    • Expressing a need or feeling such as anger, frustration, joy, or excitement
    • Being overwhelmed by their surroundings
    • Tired
    • Teething
    • Experimenting
    • Copying other children
    • Seeking attention
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    Determine why your child is biting. Watch your child play and observe the situation when biting happens. Try to notice any patterns. You may be able to predict when your child will bite. Ask yourself some questions when your toddler bites.[3]
    • What happened before the bite?
    • Was my toddler playing alone or with other children?
    • Who did your child bite?
    • Where was your child?
    • What activity was your child doing?
    • Who was taking care of your child at the time?
    • Does your child bite the same person each time or someone different?
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    Develop a response. Once you understand why your child is biting and the circumstances that typically result in biting, you can develop a strategy to prevent biting. Tailor your strategy to the underlying causes. For example, the strategy you use for a tired biter is different than a frustrated biter.[4]
    • If your child typically bites when tired, gradually increase their nap time by 10 or 15 minutes to see if this helps with biting.
    • If your child is a frustrated biter, you may say, "I know you are frustrated because you can't reach your toy. Say "mine" or "help" when you want your toy."

Method 2
Responding to Biting in the Moment

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    Distract your child if you notice they are about to bite. If your toddler is about to bite, try to distract your child to prevent the biting. This is not always possible, but it is a strategy you can use until you can get your child to stop biting. Here are some things you can try:[5]
    • Give your child a toy or a book
    • Take a walk or have your child come look out the window
    • Give your child a something to bite or chew such as a snack or teether
    • Send your child to a quiet area to play alone and take a break
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    Remove your child from the person that was bitten. Calmly go get your child. Tell your child, “Stop it. Biting hurts.” Show your child the effect of their biting on the other child.[6] You may need to count to 10 or take a deep breath to keep yourself calm.
    • You may say, “Look at Sally. She is crying because you hurt her.”
    • Never bite your child back.[7] This will not teach your child to stop biting. It actually teaches that biting is okay.
    • Remind your child that teeth are not for biting people, but for other things like chewing food, and smiling.
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    Give most of your attention to the child that was bitten. It is natural to give most of your attention to your child. However, this signals that biting is a way to get attention. Once you remove your child, spend time comforting the other child. Apologize to the child and show empathy.[8]
    • By giving attention and apologizing, you are modeling appropriate behavior for your child.
    • You may say, “I’m sorry this happened Sally. I know biting hurts a lot.”
    • Do not force your child to apologize. This only gives more attention to the biter.
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    Have your child help the victim. If your child is 2 or older, you may allow them to help take care of the victim. Your child can help with a Band-Aid or gently rub the area where the bite happened.[9] Use your discretion when allowing this. If the victim does not want your child around or you do not think your child can handle helping, simply remove your child and continue to help the victim.
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    Speak to your child once things have calmed down. The heat of the moment is not the best time to teach and address the situation. Tell your child a better way to express their needs that is specific to the situation that just happened. You should also recognize your child’s feelings at this time.[10]
    • If your child bit because of an argument over a toy, you may say, “I know that you were frustrated because Sally didn’t want to share with you. Next time, ask if you can have the toy or ask a grown up to help you.” You could also suggest that your child go play with a different toy.

Method 3
Teaching Your Child Not to Bite

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    Give your toddler another way to express frustration. If you know your child is frustrated or angry, say, “I know you are frustrated, and you want that toy.” You may also say, “I know you are mad,” or “I know you are very angry.” Then show your child an appropriate action to take such as punching a pillow, jumping up and down, ripping up paper, or making an angry face. Choose a behavior that is acceptable for you.[11]
    • If your child is not talking yet, you can teach sign language or gestures for words like “help,” “stop,” “no, “ or “mine.” [12]
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    Give your teething toddler something to chew on. A teething toddler may bite to relieve the pain and communicate irritation at the same time. Provide your toddler with something safe to chew on. Cold drinks and topical anaesthetics help with teething pain, too.
    • Let your child’s caregivers and teachers know that your child is teething.[13]
    • Provide snacks on a regular basis. If your child is biting to signal hunger, offer your child more snacks. Crunchy snacks such as carrots, pretzels, and crackers are ideal for teethers and hungry biters.[14][15]
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    Teach your child to get your attention the correct way. If your child is biting for attention, do not have a big, emotional reaction. Your reaction signals that biting is successful. Instead, tell your child, “Stop. Do not bite me,” and then act disinterested. Tell your child other ways to get your attention such as:[16]
    • Tapping you on your shoulder
    • Saying “excuse me,” or “I need you”
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    Play with your toddler. Biting often occurs when toddlers are playing together and do not want to share. Play with your child and show them how to take turns, ask for toys, share toys, and ask for help. Play with your child one-on-one and during playtime with other children.[17]
    • If your child is playing with other children, try to coach them during the session. You may say, “Sally wants to play with cars too. Let’s show Sally where the other cars are.”
    • If your child wants a toy that someone else has, teach your child to ask before grabbing a toy from another child.
    • Reinforce your child when they share or express their feelings.
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    Read books about biting. There are many children’s books about biting. Read the book with your child and discuss the different characters in the book and how they feel in certain situations. If your child is older, you can have your toddler help you read. Ask your toddler to explain what is happening in each picture.[18]
    • Popular books about biting are “Teeth Are Not for Biting” by Elizabeth Veridck, “No Biting” by Karen Katz, and “No Biting Louise” by Margie Palatini.[19]
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    Be consistent when you respond to the biting. Toddlers cannot change any behavior after one reminder or one day. Consistent, repeated reminders about appropriate behavior will eventually become a change in that behavior. If you change your response each time, it will be confusing for your child.[20] It is important that all of the adults in your child’s life know that you are dealing with biting and to respond when your child bites.
    • Even if it does not seem like it is working at first, keep going and don’t give up.
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    Maintain as regular a schedule as possible. If your child is biting due to anxiety, a regular schedule and predictability will help your child deal with this. Children appreciate having set routines for breakfast, bedtime, nap time, and playtime. If your child knows what to expect from most of the day, they'll be more able to deal with new circumstances.[21]
    • If there will be changes, talk to your child about it and explain things.
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    Seek medical attention. If your child continues to bite or the amount of biting increases, see your pediatrician.[22] A pediatrician can determine if the biting is a result of a medical problem. You can also request an assessment by a child development specialist. A specialist can identify the cause of the biting and help you develop an effective strategy. Check with a pediatrician to make sure there isn't a medical problem.
    • Biting usually stops around 3 or 3 ½ years of age.[23]
    • If your child attends day care, ask if they can refer you to a professional who deals with biting issues.

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Categories: Behavioral Issues