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Toddler biting - What to do when your child bites

Updated: Apr 25

Toddler biting grownup's hand
Toddler biting

Biting is not an uncommon behaviour in toddlers, but it can be mortifying when it is your toddler doing the biting and very upsetting when your child is on the receiving end. If your little one has suddenly started biting and you are unsure about how to manage the behaviour, read on.

Why toddlers might bite

Emotions play a big part in why toddlers bite. Their feelings can be very intense and due to a lack of language skills, they can find it hard to express themselves. Older children with a language delay may also bite as they are unable to talk about their feelings.

As odd as it sounds, some toddlers bite as a sign of affection and you may find if it is the child's parent or another favourite person that they are biting, this is the reason why.

If a child feels anxious or threatened they may also respond by biting. This often happens if there are changes within the home or they feel anxious about starting at nursery.

Frustration can be another reason for your little one to bite. They may not understand taking turns or having to wait for something, or they may be cross at not getting what they want.

Biting is also a good way to get attention, even if it is of the negative variety.

Toddlers are learning about cause and effect and sometimes they bite as a way of experimenting. Usually this only happens once though, when they find that it has a negative response!

How to stop biting

Never bite back, or get the victim to - Two wrongs do not make a right.

Intervention before they bite is very useful. It is important to look at why your little one is biting. Looking for triggers - who, when, and in what situation they bite, can be key to stopping it from happening. So, like with tantrums, you can anticipate the behaviour and remove or distract the child.

When they have bitten stay calm and remove the child from the situation. Firmly (not shouting) tell them that biting is wrong. Show them that they have upset the other child but avoid lengthy explanations until your little one is old enough to understand.

Ensure the victim is ok and give lots of cuddles and reassurance or, if they are not in your care, make sure that they are being looked after.

Focusing your attention on the child who has been bitten will also reinforce the message that biting is not the way to get attention.

Remove the biter from the situation and instead of 'time-out', give them 'time-in'. This means staying with your child, rather than leaving them alone.

Once the biter has calmed down, talk about what has happened and suggest better ways to deal with their feelings. Show them how to take turns and share and encourage them to hug to show affection instead. Encourage them to seek help from you or another grown up if they are finding things a bit tricky.

Spending time talking about emotions and reading stories that include people showing different emotions will really help. Also, think about how you react to stressful/frustrating situations. Try and model non-aggressive behaviour.

Biting should stop between age 3 and 4. If it goes on beyond this age or seems to be worsening, despite trying out the above, or it is happening with other negative behaviours, then you should seek advice from your Health visitor or GP.

Need some help with your toddlers behaviour? Click here to book a 1:1 consultation with me.

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Kirsty Ketley - Parenting Specialist

Kirsty Ketley - Brandmark

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