Toddler Biting: How to Help a Child Who Bites

Toddler Biting: How to Help a Child Who Bites

Biting is very common among children ages 18 months to 3 years. Most bitingreflects not only a toddler's feelings, but also her limited expressivelanguage. A 5-year-old may say, "Leave that alone. It's mine!" but ayounger child may defend her turf with her teeth.

Why Children Bite

Biting is an emotional topic for parents. It seems so primitive andunmannered, and lots of parents think it indicates a disturbed child.Nothing gets a kid kicked out of day care or off the birthday party listquicker than being identified as a biter. But biting alone does not predictlater emotional and social problems, and the risks of physical harm aresmall.

Sometimes children will bite when they're excited or even happy. And almostall toddlers will bite someone at one time or another. At this age childrenusually act without thinking of the consequences. In fact, when one childbites another, the one who bit is often as surprised and upset as the onewho was bitten.

Helping a Child Who Bites

Don't wait even a few minutes to talk to your child when she bites another.Toddlers have short attention spans, so they need clear and immediatefeedback. Avoid vague statements like "Now, be nice to your sister,"because a toddler may not see the link between that and her biting.

Try this: "No! We can bite apples or sandwiches, but we never bite people!"

Never bite a child back. It only teaches her that biting is acceptablebehavior. She won't understand her parent's aggression and is likely justto be scared without learning anything.

Adapted fromToddlers and Preschoolers by Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D. (Avon, 1994).

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