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Reasons Toddlers Bite and Tips for Preventing Biting in the Classroom

Cholee has worked in childcare for over ten years and has taken several early childhood development classes.

The bite I got after I tried to stop a child from biting another child.

The bite I got after I tried to stop a child from biting another child.

Biting in infants and toddlers is a common behavioral problem and can be difficult and frustrating to deal with at times. All infants and toddlers teethe and put everything in their mouth, causing them to bite not only toys, but their family and classmates as well.

I work at a daycare where the other teacher refuses to help watch the eight young toddlers in the room, leaving me to watch all the children alone who are only a year old. It can be a daunting task, but it can be done.

Since I started, the biting has dropped at least 50% if not more. Most of the biting incidents we deal with now are due to lack of proper supervision as it is almost impossible for me to watch all eight at one time.

Below are some reasons why toddlers bite and how we as parents and teachers can prevent toddlers and infants from biting.

6 Reasons Why Children Bite

There are many reasons why toddlers and infants bite, however it is still not known or understood why some children bite while others do not. Here are six main reasons why a child resorts to biting.

  1. Exploration: Infants and toddlers learn about the world around them by mouthing. This means that they instantly put everything in their mouth. Most young children do not understand the difference between toys and people, therefore it's hard to teach them the phrase "no bite" in terms of biting people.
  2. Teething: Is unavoidable, and children put everything in their mouth to help soothe their gums from the pain of teething. Whether it's a toy or person, the child may simply be trying to rid their gums of discomfort.
  3. To Learn Cause and Effect: Some children bite to see what happens. They drop a toy from the crib and watch it fall, they learn you will pick it up. Same goes for biting, they bite you or a child to see what happens.
  4. To Get Attention: Some children bite as a result of feeling invisible or left out. Even negative attention is good attention in the eyes of a child. If they are not getting any form of positive attention or reinforcement, they will resort to biting for attention.
  5. Imitation: Toddlers and infants learn through imitation. If they see another child bite and the child gets what they want, the observing child is likely to try biting the next time they want something.
  6. Frustration or Stress: Just as adults feel frustration and stress, so do infants and toddlers. Whether it be because they don't know the words, are lacking a daily schedule or routine, or there was a recent major event (divorce, move, death, ect.) in their life, it is easy for children to turn to biting to try and relieve that anxiety.
Roughhousing turned to biting. Even the best of friends cannot resist the temptation to bite.

Roughhousing turned to biting. Even the best of friends cannot resist the temptation to bite.

What to Do If Your Child Bites

  • Address them Face-to-Face. When you observe a child bite, it is important to go over to the child rather than yell at them from across the room. Getting down to eye level with the child and talking firmly but quietly is the best way to get the child's attention. Once you have their attention, it is important to let the child know that biting is not okay and it hurts their friends.
  • Demonstrate Proper Touch. Another thing to do is teach infants and toddlers nice, soft, and gentle touches. Teaching them nice touches not only keeps them from biting their friends, but they will be less likely to push, hit, and pinch their friends.
  • Use Redirection. If you absolutely have to redirect the child, always come back to the biting child after you have taken care of the child who got bit. Only using redirection will not help in stopping a child to bite.

The childcare center I work for requires redirection and it is so hard for me personally to deal with redirection. The one biter we have in the classroom will bite another child in a different play area if we simply use redirection, because the child is not understanding that biting a friend is wrong.

Tips to Prevent Biting

These tips may not work for every child or even every biting situation you encounter, however many of these tips are meant to prevent biting in the first place. If you can create an environment in which a child does not need to resort to biting, the chances of you dealing with a biting incident can become slim to none.

  • Have 2 of every toy insures that children do not have to fight or wait for long periods of time to play with a certain toy.
  • Be proactive about teething and insure that your home or classroom contains soft chew toys, a damp cloth, or teething rings that children can bite into. Having these types of items available to infants and toddlers will greatly reduce their likelihood of biting another child.
  • Allow for tension-release opportunities through play dough, water time, sensory play, and plenty of time outside. When children have the ability to release stress and tension they will be less likely to bite out of anger and stress.
  • Teach simple words and phrases such as "No bite", "Stop", "No", and "Mine". This allows the toddler to learn words to solve their problems rather than resort to physical means.
  • Give individual attention and affection for each infant or toddler in your care will show that child you care about them and want to spend time with them.
  • Avoid stressful situations such as crowded places for learning time, or standing to close together. Allow for more than one play area or make sure the play area is big enough for at least three children to play at a time without being on top of each other. Crowds and tight places cause children to feel stressed and in need of space, so they bite those children closest to them.

*Note: Do not allow a biter to have a nuk/pacifier all day. This does not prevent biting.

Teaching New Behaviors

Rather than negative discipline such as time outs, biting back, and redirection, it is important to teach new behaviors to a child who bites. Time-outs are especially not useful in biting incidents because many infants and toddlers cannot connect the biting incident to the time out.

Biting back also is extremely unhelpful, because that tells the child biting is okay. Redirection shows the child there is no discipline for their actions and that if they bite they will simply get to go play somewhere else with their toy.

Instead of discipline, it is important to change the child's behavior into something we want the child to do or say when faced with an incident where they would usually bite. For example, you could have the biter help you care for the child they just bit. Have them help you comfort the child and show the biter that biting hurts their friends.

Infants and toddlers will not learn these new behaviors overnight, but with patient and consistent parents and teachers they will eventually learn.

Many of these tips are meant to prevent biting from happening in the first place, however it is almost impossible to not have at least one biter in a toddler or infant group. These tips will also help if you are looking to stop the biters you have in your classroom or family.

For discouraging biting in the future keep daily schedules and routines so your infant and toddlers will know what to expect. Predictable routines keep children feeling safe and comfortable. Always provide close supervision. If your children are split between two play areas, make sure there is an adult in each play area to supervise and reduce the chances of any biting incidents.

Lastly being patient and consistent is key. When the toddler bites another child ensure that the child receives the same action after every biting incident. With consistent action the child will learn faster and be less likely to bite in the future.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on March 01, 2013:

Jordan--Hope these tips help! Biting can be so frustrating, but being calm and talking with the child definitely helps, as well as trying to find out why he is biting. Good luck! :)

Jordan Mallad from Boston, MA on February 28, 2013:

My two year old just bit another boy at daycare yesterday....he felt really bad about it, but it was still upsetting to us. Thanks for the tips and insight. Nice Hub!

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on June 24, 2012:

Crystal Tatum--True biting back may work for some, but it usually shows the child that biting is okay. My mom bite my sister back, and she never bit my mom again, but that didn't stop her from biting others.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on June 23, 2012:

When I was very little, I got into the habit of biting. My mother's method of handling this was simple but effective: She (gently) bit me back. I never did it again! That may not be the most PC thing to do in this day and age, but it certainly worked for me!

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on June 13, 2012:

Thanks for reading, stopping by, and voting! Wow, K9 she sounds like one of the children in my classroom. Biting is one of the worst habits I think when it comes to young kids.

India Arnold from Northern, California on June 13, 2012:

So many parents of biters are going to find this a very helpful read! My God Daughter was a really bad biter when she was younger (so much so that she got the nickname "Hannibal"). I sure wish we had this information back then, it was a miserable patch for all who were within biting range. It was odd though, she bit other kids more than adults. Not good regardless. Thanks for such an important piece. Voted up!


Sarah Johnson from Charleston, South Carolina on June 11, 2012:

Great tips for parents and caregivers for biters. I agree with all of your tips. It is a difficult behavior to deal with because the biter usually is so young.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on June 09, 2012:

Wow that's quite the story Stephanie! I agree biting definitely comes in waves, I'm so glad you found a solution that worked to keep your son from getting bit. It's always hard on both sets of parents when young children are biting or being bit.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on June 09, 2012:

This hub is certainly useful for many. My kids go to playschool only a few hours a week, but it seems like the biting incidents come in waves. For months nothing and then a lot of parents having to sign incident reports.

But in all the cases, it is always my son being bit. Recently he was bit twice by the same boy on two separate occasions. It did not bother me too much because I know my son and this other boy are like "best friends" at the school. Please note: the school does not give the name of the other child involved, but my son kept saying, "Mommy, (insert boy's name) bit me." So that's how I knew.

I could only imagine how the mother felt knowing that the school has a Biting Policy and her son could get kicked out if it continued. So the teachers shadowed the other boy and took other measures to keep it from happening again. But I also took matters into my own hands.

I had only met the mother about two weeks prior to all this happening even though our sons have been in the same rooms together for over a year. So I knew the mom was a nice person and we were glad to have finally met "the other mom." Just a week after our meeting the biting started happening. So, I e-mailed the mom and set up a play date. She did not know I knew her son was the one biting my son. Ever since the play date, there has been no more biting. And the boys look forward to seeing each other on the weekend again.