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Tips to discourage toddlers from biting

You're at the park, and your toddler bites the arm of another child who grabbed your little one's toy. Ouch! While it might embarrass or upset you, biting is common toddler behavior. But there are things you can do to help your child stop.

Why do toddlers bite?

First, it helps to understand why toddlers might bite. There can be many reasons.

Some children have not yet learned to master their emotions. They don't know how to express their feelings when angry or upset. As a result, biting may be the best reaction they can think of when another child gets too close or grabs their favorite toy. Children also might bite to satisfy a need. They might be teething, tired or just curious. Biting can also be a way to get attention.

What to do when your child bites

When you see your child bite someone, try to stay calm. Shouting, shaming or punishing your child may make the behavior worse. In a firm voice, send the message that biting is wrong. You might say, "No biting," or simply, "No."

Comfort the other child and help the child get medical help, if needed. Let your toddler know how their actions affected the other child. You might say, "It hurts when you bite. See, your friend is crying now." Focusing on the other child does two things. First, it shows your child that biting will not result in getting your attention (which can bolster a biting habit). Second, it teaches your toddler about empathy.

Find out what happened. Repeat the no-biting rule. You might say, "I know you were angry that your friend took your toy. But we can't bite."

Help your child stop biting

There are many ways to discourage biting that has become an ongoing issue. To start:

Keep an eye on playtime. By doing so, you might start to notice when and why biting occurs so that you can head it off before it starts.

Try a distraction. If your child is upset with a playmate, try offering a distraction. That might be a toy, a book or a short walk.

Help your child express emotions with words. For instance: "Tell your friend you were still playing with the toy. But they can play with it next."

Read books together about biting. Reading books for toddlers about biting can be a good way to help your child overcome the habit.

Ease teething. If you think your child is biting to relieve teething pain or to provide oral stimulation, offer your child a clean teething ring or a crunchy, healthy snack, like carrot sticks.

Help your toddler get enough sleep. Sleepiness can add to behavior problems.

Reinforce appropriate behavior. Praise your child for not biting. You might say, "Great job using your words when you were unhappy!"

Give it time

Your child will need your positive support to stop biting, which kids usually grow out of before or during the preschool years. Ask your toddler's doctor for help if you're concerned about your child's biting.

Source: National Association for the Education of Young Children;Zero to Three

Reviewed 10/12/22

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