Behavioral Biting in Toddlers

Three babies sitting indoors holding hands

My 15 month old daughter is biting everyone, all the time. Her cousin only bit when he was upset.  Anna bites when she is happy, sad or angry. It hurts. I am afraid she is going to get kicked out of day care. What do I do? 

Biting is a very common problem in babies and toddlers. Biting usually occurs with an emotion. Your child may bite when he is happy, feeling energetic, angry or frustrated. Choosing to bite does not make her a defiant child. Her biting shows you she is testing the limits and expressing her emotions.

She does not understand it hurts people when she bites. Often if a toddler is frustrated and can’t express her emotion in words. Biting is a way for her to show the recipient how she feels. Stop and prevent biting with the following tips.

Stay relaxed when bit. Easier said than done, I know! But, if you make a big production when your baby or toddler bites, the behavior is usually made worse. Be mentally ready to intervene if your child bites. Especially if she bites you – this can really hurt and cause an anger response in the recipient.

Distract and redirect when possible. If you have a toddler, ignore the behavior and quickly redirect her into another behavior. Redirecting is changing the subject. Act as if the behavior did not occur, and distract your child into another behavior. For babies less than one year old, calmly hand the baby something to chew on, such as a pacifier or toy that is age appropriate for mouths. Your toddler may quickly want to move into another activity when presented with the opportunity. If your toddler notices she is eliciting a response, even a negative one, she will often continue the behavior.

Have your child take a break. If your child is over age one, you have tried a full month of redirection, and the behavior is not decreasing or is on the rise:  your next step is to have the child “take a break.” “Taking a break” is a natural consequence for negative behaviors. Tell your biting toddler that if the biting continues, he will have to take a break. Once you have given the initial warning, when the biting occurs, follow through. Pick him up and place him in an area away from everyone for a two minutes. Tell him you expect him not to bite.

Give yourself a pause, too. If you are frustrated, walk away to take a deep breath. Remind yourself this is a normal toddler behavior.

Never bite your child back. Biting your child only teaches her to bite or move to a more aggressive, defensive behavior. Adult bites are larger and can cause skin infection, as well.

Make sure all adults in your child's life know how to handle the biting behavior. Unfortunately, biting may happen when an adult is not in close proximity and your opportunity for redirecting is lost. If you have a consistent biter, extra attention is required to ensure that an attentive adult is watching all play for intervention when the biting occurs.

If your child bites persistently for more than three months, or the behavior is associated with any other problems, check with your pediatrician for further advice. Biting is usually transient and disappears naturally as your little one moves out of the teething phase.

Parent question submitted about what to do when a toddler bites. How to recognize the problem and stop the biting.

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2 comments
Cate Pane says May 10, 2014

Excellent post! I never read about biting, but remember dealing with this in my early intervention years. Your advice is spot on!

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maryanne @ mama smiles says February 5, 2014

Excellent advice! Thankfully my current toddler doesn’t bite (so far), but one of my kids went through a big biting phase.

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