Caring for a toddler who bites

Discover why toddlers bite and ways to help them through this challenging stage.

A biting toddler is upsetting to parents, caregivers and other children. Toddlers who bite may be treated differently by adults and not given positive attention. Other children may avoid playing with the toddler for fear of being bitten.

However, biting is a natural stage of child development. Toddlers do not intentionally plan to cause harm by biting others. Biting is a mechanism they use to reflect their feelings since they are unable to successfully verbalize their emotions.

Toddlers may bite because they are:

  • Hungry, tired or sleepy
  • Frustrated or angry
  • Frightened or confused
  • Lacking attention
  • Teething
  • Need oral stimulation
  • Defending themselves
  • Curious about cause and effect

Some adults may be tempted to shame or humiliate the child. They may even want to “teach the child a lesson” by biting the child. Michigan State University Extension urges parents to avoid using physical and mental abuse in an effort to change the child’s behavior. Instead, model the behavior you want the child to adopt.

In “Ouch! Biting hurts! Why is my toddler biting?,” MSU Extension offers the following strategies:

  • Establish routines that include scheduled times for the toddler to eat, rest or relax.
  • Watch your child for signs of behavior that precede the biting episodes and be ready to intervene.
  • Help them express their feelings by saying the words that define their emotions.
  • Nurture your child. Make time to hug, kiss, play and read to them.
  • Provide an alternative outlet to biting, such as a teething toy.
  • Redirect them to another activity.

This stage of development is challenging. It may take a while before the biting stops, so it’s important for parents to remain consistent with the routines and rules they have established. Remember, a biting toddler is trying to communicate to others about an unmet need. Parents who are concerned about additional physiological factors related to the biting should consult their pediatrician.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to Michigan State University Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children for success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

Did you find this article useful?