No Biting! Biting Hurts!

Biting is a very common behavior among toddlers, however, few other parenting situations are so embarrassing and emotional as when your toddler sinks her teeth into anything that moves. You are not alone! There are a lot of concerned parents out there. The good news is that there is a lot that parents and caregivers can do to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate biting.

Kids bite for a number of reasons — and most of them aren’t intentionally malicious.

  • They’re in pain. When babies bite, typically it’s because they’re teething. They’re just doing it to relieve the pain of their swollen, tender gums.
  • They’re exploring their world. Very young children use their mouths to explore, just as they use their hands. Just about everything infants or toddlers pick up eventually winds up in their mouths. Kids this age aren’t yet able to prevent themselves from biting the object of their interest.
  • They’re looking for a reaction. Part of exploration is curiosity. Toddlers experiment to see what kind of reaction their actions will provoke. They’ll bite down on a friend or sibling to hear the surprised exclamation, not realizing how painful the experience is for that person.
  • They’re craving attention. In older kids, biting is just one of several bad behaviors used to get attention. When a child feels ignored, discipline is at least one way of getting noticed — even if the attention is negative rather than positive.
  • They’re frustrated. Biting, like hitting, is a way for some children to assert themselves when they’re still too young to express feelings effectively through words. To your child, biting is a way to get back a favorite toy, tell you that he or she is unhappy, or let another child know that he or she wants to be left alone. Let’s admit it, biting is a very effective tool…

Understanding Biting

Parents and educators who confront themselves with biting should understand the reasons behind this undesirable behavior and in order to do so they should ask the following questions:

– Where did the bite occur? At home? Childcare or playground?

-Who was your child playing with? Who was bit? Is it always the same child, or different children each time?

– What was your child doing? What was the other child doing?

-Who was caring for your child at the time?

-How often does your child bite?

– Does your child use other means to get what he/she wants/needs?

What do you do when my toddler bites?

  • First, keep your own feelings in check. When a toddler bites, you might feel frustrated, infuriated, annoyed, embarrassed, and/or worried. All of these feelings are normal, but responding when you are in an intense emotional state is usually not a good idea.
  • Be firm! Install a No biting policy. Make sure that your child understands how painful biting is. Let her experiment on her own hands to get an idea. Emphasize how other children might feel when they are bitten.
  • Make sure that your child understands that all of her actions have consequences, agree upon a punishment for biting and stick to it!
  • Don’t underestimate their ability to understand and control themselves.
  • Shift your attention to the child who was bitten. Often when a child bites, adults pay a lot of attention to him or her. This is usually negative attention, however, negative attention is still attention and can actually cause the biting behavior to continue, rather than stop.
  • Remember, learning a new behavior takes time. Your toddler may bite again, so continue watching playtime closely. It also helps to use the same words (No biting. Biting hurts.) as consistently as possible to emphasize the message.
  • Depending on your child’s particular reasons for biting, teach him/her other strategies for obtaining what he/she wants.

Teach your child anger management tools:

  • Suggest looking out the window or take a walk to another room or outside.
  • Teach them how to ask for help when they need it
  • Teach your child how to share; sharing is one of the most common triggers for biting.

Recommended reading:

“Teeth Are Not for Biting”– Elizabeth Verdick

“No Biting” – Karen Katz

“No Biting, Louise” – Margie Palatini

“The Biting Solution” – Lisa Poelle

Raluca Babota

Raluca is a psychologist, psychotherapist and the mother of two wonderful daughters. Originally from Romania, Raluca lived in Japan and the U.K. before relocating with her family to Zurich in 2012. She collaborates with our daycare, offering counseling and organizing support groups for parents and children. To learn more about Raluca`s work and experience, visit her webpage:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *