Your friend has obviously had some experience with toddlers,
and she knows that biting a playmate is common in this age
group (perhaps her daughter has already been on the other
side of the action.) Toddlers don’t have the words to
describe their emotions, they don’t quite know how to
control their feelings, and they don’t have any concept
of hurting another person. When a toddler bites a friend,
it most likely isn’t an act of aggression: It is simply
an immature way of trying to get a point across, experimentation
with cause and effect, or playfulness gone awry.
not to do about biting
parents respond emotionally when their toddler uses his teeth
on another human being; their immediate response is anger,
followed by punishment. This is because we view the act from
an adult perspective. However, if we can understand that a
toddler bite is most likely a responsive reflex, we can avoid
responding in the following typical, yet unnecessary and ineffective
bite your child back to “show him how it feels.”
He isn’t purposefully hurting his playmate. He doesn’t
understand that what he did is wrong, so by responding
with the same action you may actually be reinforcing that
this is an acceptable behavior, or confusing him entirely.
Don’t assume that your child is willfully
misbehaving. The ways that you’ll treat these behaviors
in an older child, who understands that biting is wrong,
will be different than how you will approach this with
yell at your toddler. This will do nothing more than
scare her; it won’t teach her anything about what
she’s just done.
to do about biting
you understand that your child’s actions are normal,
and that they aren’t intentional misbehavior, you will
be able to take the right steps to teach her how to communicate
her anger and frustration. This takes time, and she’ll
need more than one lesson. Here’s how to teach your
child not to bite:
As you become familiar with your toddler’s actions,
you may be able to stop a bite even before it even occurs.
If you see that your child is getting frustrated or angry
– perhaps in the middle of a tussle over a toy –
step in and redirect her attention to something else.
Immediately after your toddler bites another child, look
her in the eye and tell her in one or two short sentences
what you want her to know, such as, “Biting hurts.
We don’t bite. Give Emmy a hug now. That will make
her feel better.” Then, give your child a few hints
on how she should handle her frustration next time; “If
you want a toy, you can ask for it or come to Mommy for
Nibbling your little one’s toes or playfully nipping
his fingers sends a mixed message to your child. A little
one won’t understand when biting another person
is okay and when it’s not, nor is she able to judge
the pressure she’s putting into the bite. As she
gets a little older, she will start to understand that
some things can be done carefully and gently in play,
but not in anger. This takes a little more maturity to
understand ¾ more than you can expect your toddler
to have at her young age.
more attention to the injured child
Typically, we put all our energy into correcting the biter’s
actions and we don’t give the child who was bitten
any consolation. Soothing the child who was bitten can
show your child that his actions caused another child
fear or pain. You can even encourage your child to help
sooth his friend.
If you’ve gone though the above steps, and then
your child bites again, you can respond with a little
more intensity. If you catch him in the act, immediately
go to him. Take him by the shoulders, look him in the
eye, and firmly announce, “No biting: time-out.”
Direct him to a chair and have him sit for a minute or
two. It doesn’t take very long for your message
to sink in. (And, with a toddler, a longer time-out can
dilute the message as he may actually forget why he’s
If you miss the action, but are told about it later, you
can have a talk with your child about what happened. Limit
yourself to a few brief, specific comments, as a lengthy
lecture is almost never effective. A child who bites a
playmate more than once may need more guidance on how
to handle frustration and anger. Reading toddler books
on the topic, role-playing, and demonstration of appropriate
actions can all help your child learn how to respond to
his own emotions in socially appropriate ways.
Although the risk of injury from a toddler's bite is small,
it’s good to know what to do in case of a bite that
breaks through the skin:
and reassure the child who was bitten.
Wash your hands with soap and water.
Wash the wound with mild soap and water.
Cover the injury with a bandage.
If the bite is actively bleeding, control the bleeding
by applying direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth.
your pediatrician for advice.
article is a copyrighted excerpt from Gentle Toddler Care
by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2006)