Toddlers do the most adorable things: Give unexpected hugs, squeal with laughter, and cuddle up to you when they're tired.
But as any parent of a toddler will tell you, they also do some not-so-adorable things, like kick, scream ... or bite.
Biting is quite common in kids this age, but that's little consolation if your toddler bites. After all, no one wants their child to be considered the menace of the play group. And worse yet, kids who are labeled "biters" often get excluded from childcare centers — a challenge that no working parent wants to face.
You may think biting is just another phase you'll have to live through, but that's not necessarily the case. There are ways to get to the bottom of your toddler's biting habit. Here's how to help curb this type of behavior.
Believe it or not, biting is a normal part of early childhood development. Babies and toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, such as teething or exploring a new toy or object with their mouth ("mouthing"). As they begin to understand cause-and-effect, they also might bite a person to see if they can get a reaction.
Biting also can be a way for toddlers to get attention or express how they're feeling. Frustration, anger, and fear are strong emotions and toddlers lack the language skills to deal with them. So if they can't find the words they need quickly enough or can't articulate how they're feeling, they may resort to biting as a way of saying, "Pay attention to me!" or "I don't like that!"
Biting is slightly more common in boys and tends to occur most often between the first and second birthday. As language skills develop, so do coping skills and biting tends to lessen.
With biting, it's important to address the behavior immediately after it happens. The next time your child bites another child, separate the kids involved and try these steps:
Punishment is usually not necessary at this age, since biting is normal and most kids don't realize that their actions can cause harm to others.
If, on the other hand, you've tried the steps above and the behavior doesn't stop, timeouts may be effective. Older toddlers (2-3) may be taken to a designated timeout area — a kitchen chair or bottom stair — for a minute or two to calm down.
As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for timeouts. Shorter timeouts can be effective, but longer ones have no added benefit and can sometimes undermine your efforts if your little one gets up (and refuses to return) before you signal that the timeout has ended.
Whether you feel like you've made progress with your child's biting habit or it continues to be a work-in-progress, it's important to create a zero-tolerance culture at home and when out and about.
Here are some ways to get your little one back on the right track:
Although biting is common in babies and toddlers, excessive biting and other hostile behaviors might indicate that something is troubling your child. Also, biting that continues past 2½ to 3 years of age might be a sign of something else.
If you're concerned about your child's behavior, talk to your pediatrician about finding out its causes as well as ways to deal with it.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November 2011
|Pocket Doc Mobile App|
|Maps and Locations (Mobile)|
|Programs & Services|
|For Health Professionals|
|For Patients & Families|
|Find a Doctor|