Toddlers May Bite or Get Bitten By Other Children

Parenting September 14, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Parenting Tips for Your 15-16 Month Old Toddler

What do you do when your toddler suddenly starts biting others? Believe it or not, biting is very common for 1 and 2 year olds. Children bite for many different reasons. The best way to handle the biting depends on why your child is doing it.

Here are some of the most common reasons toddlers bite other people.

  • Exploration. Your child may not know the difference between exploring with her mouth, like when she chews on a toy, and biting another person.
  • Teething. When your child is cutting a new tooth, her gums may be swollen and painful. Biting something may stop the pain.
  • Learning cause and effect. Toddlers learn that their actions have results. A child who bites sees that biting hurts other people.
  • Frustration. Most 1-2 year olds don’t have the words to explain what they want. If they get frustrated, they may lash out by biting.
  • Attention. Biting gets a big reaction from parents. A child who is feeling ignored may bite to get her parents’ attention, even if the attention is negative.
  • Power. Toddlers want power and control over their lives. Biting is a way to get the toy they want. The other child drops the toy after getting bitten.
  • Imitation. Young children learn by watching others. If your child sees another child bite, she may decide to try it herself.

So how do you handle your child’s biting?

  • Don’t spank, yell, or bite your child back. Your child won’t understand why you’re doing these things, and won’t learn better ways to handle problems.
  • Prevent biting by keeping teething rings and other safe toys on hand when your child is getting a new tooth.
  • Give your child plenty of attention during quality time together, so she won’t need to bite to get your attention.
  • Cut down on your child’s stress, and keep her routine regular and predictable. Reduce her frustration and increase her feelings of control.

If your child tends to bite a specific child, watch her very closely around that child so you can stop the biting before it starts.

If your child does bite someone, stay calm. Remove her, and comfort the child who was bitten. Tell your child, “Biting hurts. It’s not okay to bite.” Teach the biter words to describe her feelings. Encourage her to say, “Give me back my toy!” instead of biting.

What if your child gets bitten? Seeing a bite mark on your child’s skin is upsetting. Wash the bite mark with soap and water; place a cold pack on the bite if your child wants it. The mark will go away in a few days.

Give your child the words to describe his feelings. You might say, “It hurts when someone bites me.” Biting is a phase for most toddlers. They outgrow it quickly as they learn better ways to express themselves and get what they want without biting.

Learn more about Your Toddler: 15-16 Months from Just In Time Parenting. You can also go to our Resource Links for additional information on child care and development.

Note to Parents: When reading this newsletter, remember: Every baby is different. Children may do things earlier or later than described here. This newsletter gives equal space and time to both sexes. If he or she is used, we are talking about all babies.
References: These materials were adapted by authors from Extension Just in Time Parenting Newsletters in California, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.