Happy Ocharlie-bit-my-finger-imagectober!

This month, we’re going to talk about that bane of the toddler years: Biting.

Whether your child is being bitten or the one doing the biting, this behavior is incredibly stressful for parents and caregivers alike.  Seeing bite marks on your child can be very upsetting, just as it is upsetting to know that your child is leaving bite marks on others.

First and foremost, according to the American Psychological Association, biting is a normal developmental behavior.  Toddlers that bite do not have some kind of problem, nor are they being parented incorrectly.  They are modeling completely normal (albeit upsetting) behavior.  It is a frustrating stage, but children do outgrow it.

Why do toddlers bite?

Usually because they lack the ability to express themselves with words.  They could be teething or stressed.  They might be frustrated or scared or because they want something that another child has.  Biting is pretty effective in getting your friend to stop pushing you or to get then to give you the block that you want.  Biting is also a sure-fire way to attract some adult attention, even if that attention is negative.  They might also do it simply to see what happens.  They are still learning about the world and how it works!

If your child is being bitten at school or another organized setting:

No one wants their child to be hurt and it is understandable to be upset if your child has been bitten.  Try to keep in mind that this is normal toddler behavior.  The biting child is not “mean” or “bad” with inept parents; the biting child is just a toddler.

Talk to your child’s teacher to learn about how biting is handled in the classroom.  If your child is being bitten repeatedly by the same child, teachers can often work to keep the children separated.

While it is never the fault of the child being bitten, you can help your kiddo by giving them the tools to avoid situations where they might be bitten.  Encourage them to use their words or to go find a teacher instead of fighting with another child over something.   Teaching them to ask before giving hugs and to keep their hands to themselves can also help them stay out of other children’s personal space, which may help prevent biting.

While it is natural to be upset or even angry if your child has been bitten, try to be understanding.  The parents of the biting child are likely very upset and embarrassed and doing everything they can to stop the behavior.  It can take some time for children to move out of this stage.    And remember, biting is developmentally normal.

If your child is the one doing the biting. . .

  • Try to pay attention to the circumstances around biting.  Do they do it when there is a lot of commotion?  When they want something someone else has?  During play time?  If you can get an idea of what triggers biting in your child, you are better able to prevent biting before it happens.
  • Help your child handle their emotions by encouraging them to use their words to express themselves.  Sometimes young children don’t have the words they need, but you can help by supplying the words:  “I can see that you’re really feeling angry.  It made you angry when Emily tried to take your toy.”
  • Always reiterate that biting is never okay: “Biting hurts!  You do not get to bite, not even when you are angry.”
  • Work on developing empathy by pointing out the pain that has been caused to help develop empathy.  “Look, Emily is crying.  She is crying because when you bit her and it hurt her body.”
  • Focus you attention on the child who has been bitten first to defuse any attention seeking-behavior on the part of the biting child.  Provide comfort and care to them before dealing with the other child.
  • Encourage other courses of action your child can take instead of biting.   Teach them to go to a teacher
  • If your child is teething, provide a teething toy or a cold washrag for them to sink their teeth into
  • Try reading some books about biting with your child.  Reading books can help reinforce an idea you are trying to teach to children.  (Here are a few to get you started)
  • Sing about it! Yo Gabba Gabba has a catchy song and video about biting with a simple message: Don’t bite friends, do munch food!  Check it out here!


If you child bites you. . .

Even if it is a playful bite, be firm and consistent in your message of “No biting!”.   If you are holding them, immediately put them down.  If you are playing, stop.  Tell them, “Ouch!  That hurts me when you bite.  You do not get to hurt me.”

Do not bite your child back.  It sends mixed messages to your child and does not necessarily teach them anything, except that adults can bite and hurt them.


We hope these tips help you get through a frustrating reality of toddlerhood!