May 16, 2018

Biting is a normal behaviour in toddlers and early childhood. Toddlers bite for different reasons but particularly as a way to express their feelings and to show strong emotions such as frustration and anger and a need to feel in control.

Biting usually occurs before children have developed the ability to use words and their language to express important feelings, so as language improves, biting will usually lessen.

Children in the early years do not generally hurt others on purpose and need to learn what gentle means. If your child does bite, parents need to remember to take control of their feelings and avoid being angry when your child is upset, instead speaking calmly but firmly.

Remember you are not alone, biting is particularly common in toddlers and there are things parents can do to eliminate the behaviour.

Dr Anna Cohen, Sydney’s leading Clinical Child Psychologist offers parents advice on what to do when toddlers bite to ensure you react in a calm and constructive manner.

Important points:

  • Stay calm even when feeling embarrassed, annoyed and worried.
  • Use terminating instructions to address the behaviour.
  • Act immediately to reflect the importance of what has happened.
  • Have a discussion post incident

• Stay calm. While it is natural to let emotion take over, how you handle behaviour such as biting will help to avoid any future incidents. While you may feel embarrassed, annoyed and worried, taking a breath and responding in a constructive way in a calm manner will be beneficial to your child learning about appropriate behaviour.

• Terminating instructions. One of the most common errors parents make is how they give instructions to children. It is best to use terminating instructions when asking a child to stop doing something and address inconsiderate behaviour. For example you could say ‘No, biting hurts. We don’t bite people. Use your gentle touch.’

Act immediately. Quick action is key to reflect the importance of what has happened. As soon as you notice challenging behaviour particularly biting or hitting, stop what you are doing and gain your child’s attention by saying their name and getting on their level. Begin by asking ‘What is the rule about this?’ while acknowledging and affirming their feelings. Once you have their attention, firmly state what you want your child to do, such as ‘You need to keep your hands to yourself.’

Have a discussion. Having a calm conversation about what has happened and what could have been done differently. This allows your child to understand when they make mistakes they are able to make things right and learn to take responsibility for their actions. Corrective feedback should be supportive and focus on the behaviour not the child. For example, you could say ‘You shouldn’t bite’ as opposed to ‘You are naughty’ so that you’re correcting the behaviour and not making a negative statement about your child. By offering feedback at the time of the negative behaviour you give your child the opportunity and learning experience to associate the feedback with the behaviour.

While biting is often an embarrassing behaviour in your child, it is important to know that it is normal and can be overcome with constructive methods to respond. By having a plan of how to react, you will feel more in charge while staying polite and specific when giving instructions.

For more information or professional advice contact Sydney’s leading Child Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen at Kids & Co. –

Share your comments below

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  • My grandson is going through a biting phase at the moment. It’s a hard one to fix


  • I know of a little one who used to bite. She would do this if she wasn’t the centre of attention. They tried disciplining her by giving her time out and telling her it was very naughty to do this. Nothing worked until she bit a little boy and he bit her back. She was shocked at first and then started to cry. Both sets of parents said that their child no longer bites because they realised how it much it hurt. (No skin was broken on either child).


  • I think my son bit once and we were so shocked by it. We discussed it and he never did it again. I wouldn’t have labelled him a biter. However, we have come across children who are biters – it’s their first instinct when they don’t get their way. It’s up to parents to manage this situation and teach their child other options vs biting.


  • The only one of my children to bite used to bite themselves as a way of getting the other children into trouble.


  • My 4yr old bites regularly. She’s 4,5 yrs old, has Down syndrome and is pretty much non-verbal. She only bites at home and does it out of affection most of the time, so I call it a love bite, lol ! I always go on her level and say “no biting, that hurts”, while pointing to her teeth, sometimes gently holding her chin. She can give the best of cuddles and let her make it up. I figure it will stop as soon as her speech developes.


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