Is it Normal for Toddlers to Bite?

Biting is a common behaviour for children. But if this behaviour is not discouraged, promptly and powerfully, it can turn into a dangerous habit (like biting other kids’ faces or biting babies). 

Just as Monica finished tying her 16-month-old’s shoe, he bit her shoulder—hard! ‘Owww!’ Monica yelped. Then, struggling to compose herself, she scolded him lovingly, mildly, ‘Please, Lukie! That is not nice. Mommy does not like biting.’ 

Do you think Lucas stopped? Nope! In fact, he soon began biting whenever he got mad. 

Why do toddlers bite? 

Toddlers typically chomp during teething or when frustrated. 

Toddler Biting Self vs Others

The reason toddlers bite themselves—or engage in other acts of self-harm, such as head-banging—is similar to why they bite others. They might be frustrated or have other big emotions they cannot express. 

How to Stop a Toddler from Biting 

Here is how to stop this dangerous behaviour fast:

1. Consequences

    If the chomper bites before you can stop him, he needs a consequence. With a young toddler, start with a mild consequence.

    2. Clap-Growl

    In the example above, Monica’s message, ‘Mommy does not like biting,’ failed to work because it was way too sweet. Remember, in emotional situations, what you say is much less important than the way you say it. Be firm and wear a serious expression to match.

    If you happen to see your child open his mouth right as he is about to nip, give some fast, hard claps, make a deep, menacing growl, do a double take and with a warning finger held up, bark, ‘Hey…hey! No bite. No bite!!’ 

    Do not stare at your child after the warning. Staring may make a defiant kid disobey even more!

    3. Kind Ignoring

    Immediately remove your little biter from the situation. Give him a ‘cold shoulder’ for 20-30 seconds and lavish some sympathy on the child who was nipped. (Let the biter overhear you gossip to his victim, ‘I say, ‘No, no, no!’ I do not like it when Lukie bites. Kids have to use their words when they are mad. I like it when kids who are really angry say, “No, no! I do not like it!”) After a minute or two of kind ignoring, reengage your child with a little friendly talking or play.

    Later in the day, gossip to his teddy about how you do not like biting. Role-play the incident and ask your child what the ‘biter’ could do to make the bitten doll feel better. You might also tell a fairy tale. Perhaps a little story about the girl bunny who was sad because she would bite so much that the other bunnies did not want to play with her. So her mum taught her a special trick: Every time she wanted to bite, she should show her teeth and click them together 3 times…but never bite. The other little bunnies thought this was funny and then they all wanted to play with her! This made her smile and she lived happily ever after. The end!

    4. ‘Take-Charge’ Consequence

    Children who bite hard or are ‘repeat offenders’ get an immediate consequence, like a mini timeout, timeout or a fine.

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    Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.