You’re at the playground with your child, watching her run amok with the other rug rats, when suddenly, it happens. She sinks her teeth into somebody else’s arm. Cue extreme mortification. And fears that you might be raising a psychopath. But don’t freak out—toddler biting is a normal part of development. However, you do want to make sure that you actively discourage this type of behavior. How are you supposed to do that, exactly? We tapped pediatrician Whitney Casares, M.D., author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One, for her expert advice.
Why do children bite? “Babies who are teething or learning to explore will sometimes bite,” says Dr. Casares. “In the toddler stage, kids who are still learning how to talk—and lack the language skills to express their emotions—will also bite others when they get frustrated or excited.” And sometimes kids bite just to see what kind of reaction they’ll get or when they’re craving attention.
Got it. And what should I do if I see my kid biting? “To stop the behavior, parents should quickly address it with a firm and immediate response,” says Dr. Casares. “You can say, ‘We don’t bite. Biting hurts other people.’ Avoid lengthy explanations and remember to stay calm yourself, even if you’re upset about the behavior. Separate the children who were involved and comfort the victim, giving that child the most attention immediately after the incident.” Ideally, you’ll curtail biting the first time you see it happen, but for repeat offenders, give them a consequence (like a time-out) so they know this behavior is unacceptable.
What can I do to make sure my toddler won’t bite again? Give your child specific alternatives to biting. “For older toddlers, you can teach them to use words like ‘I’m mad’ or ‘That’s mine’ when they feel angry,” says Dr. Casares. When your child uses more acceptable methods to express his emotions, make sure to praise him so that you reinforce the positive behavior.
Anything else? “Occasional biting is common among babies and toddlers, but if your child persistently bites, ask your pediatrician for help determining if any underlying issues need to be addressed,” advises Dr. Casares.