Why Do Toddlers Bite And How To Stop It?

Why Do Toddlers Bite And How To Stop It

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You are busy preparing breakfast on a Monday morning, and your five-year-old comes crying because your two-year-old just bit her and gnawed at the arm. This is not the first time your toddler has bitten someone, and now you’ve had enough of it.

But why would a toddler bite? Is there something wrong with the child? How do you make the toddler understand that biting is wrong?

In this MomJunction article, we give you answers to these questions and tell you more about biting by toddlers.

Let’s begin with the question that’s nagging you.

Why Do Toddlers Bite?

There may be no explanation as to why a toddler bites, but there is always a trigger behind the behavior. Here are a few reasons why your toddler may resort to biting (1) (2):

  1. Venting frustration and anger: It is the leading cause of biting among toddlers. Toddlers do not have the vocabulary to express their emotions, which can be frustrating for them. Therefore, they may rely on biting to express that frustration.

Scenarios that can trigger biting include the inability to get a toy back from a sibling. Biting the sibling is the toddler’s way of saying “I am angry! Give back my toy.” A toddler may also bite when fussy, tired, or just hungry.

  1. Test cause and effect: A toddler may bite someone to test the response to the action. A toddler in daycare may bite his friend to check the reaction of a caretaker. Sometimes a toddler may know the reaction – getting picked up by an adult or moved to another room, and he/she may deliberately bite to elicit the desired response.
  1. Get attention: Yes! Toddlers can bite if they do not get the attention they seek from the parent or the caretaker.
  1. Teething: It can be counted as a valid reason for a toddler to bite. Teething can irritate the gums and biting helps ease the irritation and make the toddler feel better.
  1. Copying peers: A toddler may see another toddler in the playgroup bite and copy the action out of curiosity. We can say that toddlers may bite due to peer pressure since other toddlers around are doing it repeatedly.
  1. Exploration: Younger toddlers may use their mouth to explore the world around them. In their quest to know something or someone, they may end up biting. For instance, a young toddler curious about the family cat’s tail may put it in the mouth and bite.
  1. Being overwhelmed and self-assertive: Sometimes toddlers can get overwhelmed by whatever is happening around them. For example, when playing a game in a group, the toddler may get so excited that he/she would not know how to regulate those feelings. In the excitement, the toddler may end up biting someone. During some scenarios, the toddler may bite someone to assert his/her presence in the group.

A toddler can direct the biting towards an individual or an object. Sometimes, they may direct it towards themselves.

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[ Read: Teething In Toddlers Symptoms ]

Can Toddlers Bite Themselves?

Yes. Toddlers can bite themselves too. Self-biting is often motivated by frustration or teething and could be restricted to fingers. Toddlers with autism may bite themselves repeatedly to vent out their frustration (3).

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Is It Normal For Toddlers To Bite?

Yes. Pediatric experts state that biting is normal during toddlerhood and is considered a standard part of the toddler’s traits. The activity does not have a lasting significance or impact (4). Nevertheless, you as a parent will not like seeing your little one gnawing on everything and everyone around, so something has to be done about it.

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What To Do When The Toddler Bites?

The situation can get awkward when the toddler bites someone. There is likely to be a lot of drama, but keeping a cool head can help resolve the problem quickly. Here is what you should do when your toddler bites:

Step 1: Take the toddler away from the situation and the person or thing that was bitten

  • Calmly pull the toddler away from the person he/she just bit. Do not yell, scold, or make facial expressions that communicate anger and disapproval. Even disapproving attention is enough for a toddler to repeat their actions.
  • If the toddler was playing outdoors with a group of kids, then take him/her to another group of toddlers. If they bit you or a sibling, then take them to another room.
  • Show the bite marks made by the child and say “You just hurt your friend. That is not right.”
  • If the toddler bit a toy and damaged it, then show them how they destroyed the item and tell them they won’t get it back in good condition.

Letting the toddler know of the consequences of biting is the first step to minimize the chances of repeated biting.

[ Read: Toddler Anger Management Tips ]

Step 2: Focus more on the results of biting

  • If you continue chiding the toddler for biting, then it will become a means of gaining attention from those around. Instead, divert your attention to the result, which is the person who got bit or the toy that got gnawed.
  • Apologize to the toddler or the person who got bit. Tell them you are sorry for the actions of your child and understand that he/she did something wrong. If the toddler bit or chewed on another toddler’s toy, then state that you are sorry for the damage. Make sure your toddler sees you doing it so that they understand that what they just did was wrong.

Step 3: Identify the problem

  • Next, figure out what the reason is for the behavior. Ask questions – Did the toddler bite because he/she was hungry? Did they bite a sibling because they took away the toy or just bit the toy because of sudden teething pain?
  • Asking questions can help you minimize the risks of repeat behavior.

While the above steps help in immediate correction, you need a bigger plan to stop the biting once and forever.

[ Read: How to Stop Toddler From Hitting ]

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How To Stop And Prevent A Toddler From Biting?

You can stop and eventually break the habit of biting through these steps (5) (6):

  1. Discourage the biting: Firmly tell the toddler that biting hurts and that it is not a good thing to do. Say ‘No, biting hurts!’ or “I know you are frustrated but you should not bite your friend.” or “What’s the matter? What is making you bite?” When you make a calm yet discouraging remark to biting, the toddler would understand that biting is wrong and can cause discomfort to others.
  1. Keep playgroups small: If the toddler tends to bite a lot at daycare, then you can consider bringing down the size of the playgroup. Fewer players in games mean lesser sensory inputs and minimal chances of the toddler’s need to assert themselves.
  1. Tackle frustration before it gets the toddler: If your toddler seems frustrated and fussy, ask questions like “What happened? Do you need something?”, “Are you feeling hungry?”, “Did your friend take away your toy?”. Asking specific questions is an excellent way to identify the exact problem making the toddler bite and tackle it right away.
  1. Give means to deal with frustration: You must find ways to help the toddler efficiently control frustration. One of the best ways it is to teach your toddler words and actions that can help them communicate stress. Teach simple words and sentences like “No,” “Yes,” “I am hungry/tired.” “I want the toy”. Ask your toddler to come to you if something is bothering him/her. Teaching them these simple coping methods can mitigate the onset of frustration that can lead to biting.
  1. Provide timely teething relief: Does the toddler nip at every rubbery, silicone toy? It is quite likely that he/she is going through a teething phase. Give them a teething toy or ring, which is a less destructive outlet for the sensation.

[ Read: How To Deal With Aggressive Toddler ]

Pediatric experts state that biting during toddlerhood is a normal occurrence, but certainly not an acceptable one. You can prevent the problem by teaching the toddler ways to cope with the triggers and keeping a watch on their behavior. As the toddler grows older, he/she will understand that biting is not right and will eventually outgrow the habit.

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Have tips on how to stop a toddler from biting? Do share them in the comments section.

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo took writing as a profession right after finishing his MBA in Marketing. Earlier he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Botany & Zoology from the autonomous St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Rohit has also done a Stanford University certification course on breastfeeding. This botanist-zoologist turned writer excels at life sciences, and at MomJunction he writes everything about pediatrics and maternal care. In between writing and being overly curious, he spends time cooking, reading, and playing video games. LinkedIn profile –
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