Health Notes

Biting toddlers can be frustrating for parents, others

by Dr. Elizabeth Walenz on March 26, 2013

I have been drawing topics for this blog from patients I see in the office, parent questions and new information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, but this time around I’m talking from personal experience about biting toddlers.

I have had a few troublesome toddlers in my office with biting behaviors at home or at daycare. On a personal note, I recently flew with my 20 month old and let’s just say C-man was annoyed to be strapped into his car seat for three hours. He grabbed my hand and chomped on my finger several times during the flight.

So what’s up with biting during the toddler years?

In the first year of life, babies may start to bite out of love, going in for a mom or sister’s face to give a big kiss, which may be a gentle bite.

In the second year, toddlers may express frustration, anger, and fatigue by unleashing their jaws. Biting may not be the only troublesome behavior, it can be hitting, throwing items or hair-pulling.

What is a parent to do?

First, remain calm, try not to cry.

Second, I recommend a firm NO and let the child know that you mean it. Give the child a disappointed face, no smiling or laughing as this can reinforce the poor behavior.

Third, remove the child from the situation. If the child bites a sibling or parent, remove the toddler and place them in time-out.

Toddlers often will not sit patiently on a chair until a timer goes off. I suggest you not give them attention and move them to a different location, until they are showing signs they are ready to return to normal, loving behavior.

When the child shows no further biting or other poor behavior, give them a hug and express to them your disappointment in their poor behavior.

Try saying things like, “I understand you are frustrated but we don’t bite people (hit people, pull hair). We give nice touches, such as hugs,” and demonstrate a hug to the child.

You should further address the frustration, and say something like, “I understand you are tired, let’s get ready for nap.” Or in the case of my recent trip, “I understand that you are frustrated, but now we only have two more hours on the plane.”

At many daycare settings, a biter is at risk of being ejected from the center if he/she is a repeat offender. My recommendations are to sit down with daycare to figure out when biting behaviors are occurring and get on the same page with discipline. If the child is getting the same message at home and at daycare, there is more likely to be success.

I do not recommend biting back, nor am I a huge fan of spanking for biting behavior.

I always encourage parents to try to talk to the child and give them some time out of the situation to help to learn acceptable behavior.

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