A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Mom talking to toddler

Taming the Biting Toddler

Having a toddler who bites is the worst – it’s frustrating and can be embarrassing! I know this well. One of my kids seemed to think he was a vampire.

If your child is biting, you’re not alone! Many young children go through a biting phase, and almost all bite at some point during their first three years. Biting often peaks between 15 to 36 months. It usually happens when toddlers are frustrated or overwhelmed, not because they’re mean. At this age, it’s hard for children to use words to tell a buddy they want the toy back. Biting makes the point.

However, biting is unacceptable. You need to help your child stop. You can do this by setting clear expectations, limits, and consequences – a parenting technique that will be useful to you for years to come. Your best ally in this situation is your own smart toddler! They’re able to learn to stop biting if you guide them through it – by talking with them before and after situations when they bite.

Let’s say your son bites his pal Noah when they play in the park. Talk to your son before your next trip to the park.

  • Explanation: Tell him in simple words that biting hurts and is not okay. “Biting hurts. No biting.” “People are not for biting.”
  • Expectation: Tell him that when you go to the park, you want him to be sure not to bite Noah, and you know he will do a good job at this! Remind him to use his words. Role play an example: say “My toy,” or “My turn.” Tell him to come get you if he needs help.
  • Limit: Tell him that he can’t bite Noah, even once.
  • Consequence: Tell him that if he does bite, you’ll have to take him home.

At the park, try to catch him doing a good job. Tell him how proud you are of him for not biting Noah. Remind him to use words if he wants something, or to come get you if he needs your help.

If he does bite, tell him it’s time to leave because he bit Noah. He’ll probably protest, but calmly gather your things and leave. Don’t give in and stay at the park.

To help him learn from his error:

  • Check in with the other child before you leave. This will accomplish two things. First, it models empathy and caring so that your child can see how they might make it right. Also, biting can be a way for a child to get extra attention from adults – focusing the attention on the other child avoids that secondary gain.
  • Talk later about what happened when he’s calm. Tell him you know he’ll do a better job next time!
  • Read books together about biting.
  • Consider giving him a teething ring to bite the next time he gets the urge. You can even attach it to his clothing.

There are other times toddlers may bite. Pay extra attention if your child is:

  • Overwhelmed by a stimulating environment
  • Overtired or hungry
  • Teething

When dealing with a biting toddler, remember this:

  • Don’t bite them back! This only models behavior you want to discourage. Corporal punishment in general makes biting worse.
  • Be sure that all of your child’s caregivers understand this and respond consistently. If parents interfere with or criticize each other’s discipline, the child can feel increased tension – leading to more aggression and biting.

Biting isn’t always intentional. It doesn’t mean your child is “bad.” It only means that they need to learn a new way of handling frustration or challenging situations. It rarely causes serious injury or poses any health risk. It occurs as part of a normal developmental phase and doesn’t predict aggression later in life. Most children stop biting on their own – my “vampire” certainly did!

This article was originally published August 28, 2017

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