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Get Your Toddler To Stop Biting

Find out why kids bite and what you can do to stop it. Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D.
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If your child’s favorite thing to sink his teeth into is other kids, it’s time to nip biting in the bud.

Why Kids Bite

The number-one reason: They can’t find the right words—or any words—to express frustration or other emotions. "For kids, biting can be an effective attention-getter," says Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "If a child bites another child, that kid will yell and an adult will run over. It’s a way to get face time."

What To Do

"Let your toddler know it’s zero tolerance—not acceptable," Dr. Swanson says. "If the biting isn’t dealt with early and effectively, it will likely continue." Get down to your toddler’s eye level and say, "You may not bite other people. Biting hurts." Then comfort the other child; say, "I’m sorry this happened, no one is allowed to bite. We’ll work hard to make sure this never happens again." If his parent isn’t around, wash the bite with soap and water. If the skin is broken, take the child to the doctor.

What about when your toddler decides to bite you? "Look him in the eye, say ‘That hurts me,’ and move him away from you," Swanson says. "For example, move him from your lap for a few minutes so he doesn’t have the reward of sitting there."

To prevent future bites, focus on what a mouth is meant to do, recommends Dr. Swanson. Say, "What a good job you’re doing eating your snack! That’s what your mouth is for—eating food, not biting people.’"

What Not To Do

You may be shocked and unnerved, but try not to yell; as with all things in childhood, raising your voice won’t teach kids a lesson. Your child isn’t purposefully trying to be "bad"—he’s just beginning to learn right from wrong. Just don’t make light of the situation; he needs to learn that biting is a serious offense. (And don’t you bite. Playful, gentle nibbling at toes or cheeks was one thing when your toddler was a baby, but a toddler who is having problems with biting won’t understand the difference between what you’re doing and what he’s doing.)

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