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What to do when toddler is biting

billcorbett_2We received another question from a reader for our Parenting Expert, Bill Corbett. This is an issue that many parents and caregivers deal with during the toddler years … BITING. What is the best way to handle this? Here is the original question:

Hi Bill, A close friend of mine is having some issues with her 2 year old biting. I am writing to you because this is not the first time someone has come to me with this issue; it seems somewhat common for this age group. As a director of a program, if my staff sees a child bite, we will take efforts to ensure that it does not happen again. We’ll also look for triggers of why the child bit such as: are they teething, are they limited by speech, are they tired etc. In most instances we are able to get a child past the biting stage within a few weeks. My friend, however, seems to be having a more serious case. Despite redirection and distraction, she continues to have issues with her child biting friends and caregivers. Any suggestions?

Bill’s response:

According to expert pediatricians I have spoken to, biting usually occurs when one of two conditions are met; the victim or a caregiver over react to the biting, or the child is overwhelmed emotionally and he or she reverts to primitive behaviors to attack. I suggest that you communicate with your friend that no one is over reacting after the bite takes place. Caregivers in charge should not yell, punish, or act out when the bite takes place. If they have to say anything, they can say, “Biting is NOT OK,” in as calm a voice as possible.

The victim should receive nurturing immediately and the play activity should then be ended. If possible, the biter should be removed from the play area and or at least from that playmate, and held lovingly by another caregiver. Parents and teachers normally get angry when they experience this occurrence, but they must realize that this is a normal stage for toddlers and some preschoolers. If the biting is a result of the child feeling overwhelmed emotionally, the caregiver should learn to recognized this state of the child and watch for triggers that ignites the biting.

All biting does end if the caregivers in charge handle the incidents appropriately. In his book TOUCHPOINTS (1992, Perseus Books), T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. says, “If you lose control, too, you will frighten her and reinforce the behavior.”

Many thanks to Bill Corbett for weighing in on this issue. Do you have a tip or experience to share in relation to this question? We’d love to hear from you! You can also ask a question for Bill or any of our experts by using the blue form on the right!

Bill Corbett, the author of the book Love, Limits, & Lessons® and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids.


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