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Two happy toddlers hugging

There are few things more embarrassing than your toddler biting another child. It is painful for the victim and it is difficult for parents to be calm about it (especially those of the poor victim!).

Why do toddlers bite?

Biting is common in toddlers. Often they bite when they are frustrated because they have strong impulses but are often too young to communicate, negotiate or empathise with their playmates. This means they find sharing or taking turns really difficult. Sometimes it can be the very quiet and gentle children who bite, and it is hard not to be horrified at their behaviour.

Toddlers are also ‘egocentric’, which means that they are not able to put themselves in another toddler’s shoes and empathise with their pain and desires.

Don’t hide away, but try to prevent biting when you can

It can be tempting to avoid play dates and public places if biting becomes a problem, however it’s best not to hide your toddler away. Instead, just be ready to step in when you see things leading up to a biting incident. When you’re supervising children, it’s really important for them to learn to take turns and that other children have feelings too.

 What should I do if my toddler bites another child?

  • If your child bites, say “No!” and remove your child from the situation quickly
  • Focus your attention on the victim. Tell the child (so your toddler can hear) that you are really sorry and that you know it hurts to be bitten
  • This will help comfort the victim, and your child will learn that they do not get things when they bite, and that you respond to the victim and ignore them
  • Don’t ask children to give your toddler things so they don’t get bitten – it’s a bad lesson for everyone

When you have checked that the victim is OK, go to your child

  • They will be very frustrated and upset, so quietly take them to one side and calmly explain that we do not bite as it hurts. There is no need to over-explain, just stay with them as they calm down
  • Some parents teach their children to give a sign that means they are not coping – this allows you time to step in and help before they resort to biting
  • What will really help your toddler during a biting phase is if you discuss a plan with your partner, your friends and the parents of your child’s friends so that you are all working together to help him to get through this phase
  • Other parents and nursery staff will be more supportive if you talk to them
  • It will not help if one person decides to try their own technique – do not allow anyone to ‘bite him back’ or hit him

The good news is that biting is a normal (though aggressive and unpleasant) behaviour that your toddler will grow out of. The more you can remain calm and quickly show your disapproval, the faster he will learn to cope with frustration and other children’s needs in a more acceptable way. Hopefully, before long it will all be a distant memory.