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Why do toddlers bite?

My 18-month-old son was bitten at his childcare providers yesterday.

What causes kids to bite - and what can you do if it happens?


Elizabeth Walenz | Pediatrician

Elizabeth Walenz

Kids usually discover biting by chance when they start teething. Most children will start off by biting their parents in a playful manner. It is important to try to stop this behavior early on.

It can be a sign of affection or it can also be playful. Parents initially may think its cute, but if not stopped early, it will continue and can worsen.  It can also become attention seeking behavior.  

Later on, close to 15-18 months, kids will start to bite secondary to frustration, whether they are attention seeking or frustrated that another child has taken their toy. At 18 months, a child's vocabulary is limited and biting can be their way of communicating their feelings or needs. Again, it is important to halt this behavior early.

I do not recommend to bite a child back. If a child is biting, I will recommend to take the child out of the current situation. If a child is playing with parent and then starts to bite, I recommend that the parent put the child down and walk away.  I also recommend to give the child a firm "No!" This may bring tears for the child, but this lets the child know that the behavior is not acceptable. 

Similarly, if a childcare situation, if a child bites another child, I will take them out of the situation, away from the other children. The child may cry. Once the child, has finished crying, I will ask them if they are ready to rejoin the play group. I will give them a hug and let them know that I enjoy when they are behaving well and that we do not bite our friends. 

Read more answers by Dr. Walenz