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Advice on How to Stop a Toddler From Biting

Updated on August 31, 2009

 Biting is a very common phase for toddlers to go through.  However, it can be very distressful for parents.  It is often the first disciplinary hurdle parents jump.  All your preconceived notions and idealistic ideas about parenting are brought face to face with the realities of living with a toddler.  Each family must determine what disciplinary style will be used.  That being said there are several things to consider when your toddler bites.

First, try to determine if there is a reason for the biting.

  • Is your child teething?  If so, simply provide a toy or food to bite.  (Ginger snaps worked very well for my daughters.)
  • Is your child just playing?  Young children are often unaware when their play becomes hurtful and it is not something that can be easily explained.  However, I found that a good scare works wonders not just for hiccups.  My older daughter bite me when we were playing and I was so shocked I let out a shout.  It gave my little girl a scare and she never tried biting during playtime again.
    Or, if you don't want to scare your child and your child is naturally sympathetic you could try crying.  Seeing your tears some children will realize that biting hurts mommy or daddy.
    I've also heard it suggested that you either place your child's own arm in his or her mouth when about to bite or bite the child back.  I have never tried this myself, but if you do want to try this method I would recommend you do the biting as you will be able to control the force of the bite.  If you place your child's arm in his or her mouth your child is more likely to get hurt from the bite.  Many parents have suggested that a little bite goes a long way to explaining to a child that biting hurts in a way young children can readily understand.
  • Is your child frustrated or angry?  Toddlers often have a difficult time expressing themselves, which can be very frustrating for them and for their parents.  If a child acts out his or her frustration by biting discipline the child then work with your child on appropriate ways to express emotions.
    Consider creating or investing in a happy face continuum that shows the various emotions.  Pointing to the various faces explain to your child a circumstance or event that would lead to that emotion.  Then talk to your child about what the right response would be when faced with that emotion.
  • Is your child asking for attention?  My daughter regressed back to the biting stage when her baby sister arrived on the scene.  I would hold her little face in my hands and explain that we did not bite.  Then I would try to help her find appropriate ways to express her emotions.  Additionally, I'd try to plan more time for her into my day.

Additionally, if your child is biting a sibling or playmate here is a little tip I picked up while working at a daycare.  Put the child who bit into timeout and focus all the attention on the child who was bit.  If the child was acting out to get attention he or she will realize that such behavior actually has the opposite affect.  If you also plan more time for that child later the child will also have less desire to act out for attention.

Another daycare tip you might try for those biters who just wont stop is an unpleasant taste.  Following a biting incident use a drop of lemon juice or a pinch of cayenne pepper on the tongue.  After a few such incidents your child will soon loose his or her taste for biting.

As you redefine your parental ideals in light of actual parenting experience I hope you'll find some of these ideas helpful.  Additionally, don't worry if your parenting falls short of your ideals.  Remember, those ideals were created in a vacuum where children did not exist.  Good luck with your toddler.


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    • danajconnelly profile image

      danajconnelly 5 years ago from Family and Parenting

      I actually agree with letting the child feel what the bite is like on their own arm. Children need to learn to self regulate and I can almost guarantee that they would not bite themselves enough to break the skin. That said, there are certain disorders where biting behaviors persist throughout the day and require a more structured behavior intervention plan.

    • profile image

      sophycsb 8 years ago

      i am lone parent of a 34month old and when my daugther was younger she used to bite me and a friend told me to bite her back, she never did it again.

      P.S: Always make sure you dont bite the child too hard, the intention is to show them bite hurts, not the other way around.

    • pennee profile image

      pennee 8 years ago from sydney, australia

      A simple; "Thats very naughty!" with a stern look is suitable for the first bite episode, and then a warning; "If it happens again I will take you to the naughty corner" will give them a chance to do the right thing. Even if a child cannot talk, they will understand that something they won't like is going to happen if they bite again. Don't forget to reward good behaviour.