Toddler Biting

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Biting is a violent action that agitates a lot of parents and childcare providers. In some cases, it is known to terrify the child who is bitten as well as his/her parents. This kind of behavior is quite common among young children. Children will bite most frequently between the ages of 1yr and 3yrs. It happens for different reasons with different children, and under different circumstances.

The following are some of the common reasons why a child bites:

  • Very young children explore new things by touching it. More often than not, they put it in their mouth. Children this young do not understand the difference between gnawing on a toy and biting someone's flesh.
  • Some children also bite because they are teething and there is pain caused in their mouths because of that.
  • Children between 8 and 14 months often bite when they are excited. A firm no is all it takes to stop them.
  • Young children don't have any verbal way to show their frustration. Physical activities are much easier and a much more natural course, especially for a toddler. If another child takes his toy he may react by hitting or biting. If biting gets a strong response, the child will continue to bite to communicate their anger.
  • Children over 3 years old bite when they are involved in a power struggle between older kids in the family or day care center and themselves. Biting is a powerful way to show other kids their weapon and how to hurt them with it.
  • Biting is a quick way to become the center of attention - even if it is negative attention.
  • Children almost always imitate others, and if they see other kids biting, they will want to try it out. Also, if an adult bites the child back to 'get back at him' the child learns that it is okay to bite.

Special attention should be provided to the child who has been bitten. He/she might be scared and in pain. He/she needs a lot of love and reassurance that such an act will not happen again. Wash the wound with soap and water to prevent infection. Use an anti-bacterial cream and apply ice to prevent swelling.

When a child bites other children, try to find out the real reason behind it. If a child bites because he is teething, give him a toy to chew on. If he is biting because he is tired and hungry, you can re-schedule his feeding and napping times so that he calms down. If power play is involved and older toddlers are biting over a toy, you can either get another identical toy or take the toy away for the time being till the kids resolve their differences and agree to share the toy. However, if very young children are fighting over the same toy, you might as well get another identical toy as it is unreasonable to expect kids so young to understand the concept of sharing.

You must make the child understand that it is not okay to bite. Look the child into his/her eyes and say firmly that you have not approved of the biting and you will not tolerate this type of behavior in future. The key is teaching children good and acceptable social behavior.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,