If you’re the parent of a toddler who bites, you may feel embarrassed, frustrated, and worried. And for group childcare providers, little ones biting brings up safety issues and parent concerns.
As dreaded as it is, biting in toddlerhood is common — and it has nothing to do with being a bad kid, parent, or caregiver. There are good reasons toddlers bite. Still, it’s important to address it, both when it occurs and also by targeting the underlying reasons your child is biting.
Reasons for Biting
Usually, toddlers bite because they’re trying to communicate something they don’t yet have the language or emotional skills to express in an acceptable way. Famous triggers for biting include:
Sharing Squabbles — This is the number-one setting for biting. Toddler A grabs Toddler B’s toy. Toddler B is angry, and the feeling overwhelms him because he simply doesn’t understand it. He wants the toy back, but he doesn’t have the words to express that. He bites Toddler A out of anger and frustration.
Overwhelming Feelings — As in the example above, toddlers’ feelings are big, often overwhelming, and hard for them to understand (let alone manage). They may bite to express anger, sadness, frustration, or even excitement.
Lacking Language Skills — A toddler may bite because he can’t say something he wants to say. Another child may be standing too close to him, for example, or he may be trying in vain to tell you something that you just can’t translate.
Seeking Attention — Toddlers want what they want, and they want it RIGHT NOW. Toddlers can’t have undivided attention every second, of course, and they may bite when they want something and their parent/caregiver is busy with another task.
Feeling Overstimulated, Overtired or Antsy — Some children are sensitive to crowds, bright lights, or loud noises. They may react to feeling overstimulated by biting. Feeling tired can also trigger biting, the same way it can trigger tantrums. On the other hand, having too much energy can also lead to biting.
Aside from biting as a way to communicate, toddlers may also bite because they are:
Trying to Relieve Teething Pain — Babyhood is heyday for teething, but that doesn’t mean your toddler is out of the woods. Emerging molars may be the culprit for biting after age 1.
Seeking Oral Stimulation — It’s normal for babies to put everything in their mouths; it’s one of the ways they learn about the world. Mouthing usually decreases as they enter toddlerhood and begin to use their hands to explore objects. Some toddlers crave having things in their mouths, though, and may bite others as a result. Seeking oral stimulation could be due to a breakdown in sensory integration.
Experimenting with Behavior — The same way your toddler may throw his cup on the floor at mealtime and turn to see how you react, he may bite because he’s curious to see what happens.
What You Can Do
Try to figure out why your toddler is biting. Then, you can help him learn alternate, acceptable behaviors. Take note of the circumstances around his biting. Whom does he bite? What’s happening when it occurs? You’ll likely see a pattern, and you can zoom in and address the underlying triggers. For tips on how to do this, head over to our article about what to do if your toddler is biting.