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My Toddler Is Biting

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My one-year-old daughter has an awful biting problem. She goes through spells where she bites everyone she comes in contact with for a full day. I cannot bring myself to bite her back or spank her. I've been advised to give her a "biting rag," but she hasn't taken to it. I tell her that we do not bite people; just food, toys, or her special rag. I'm really frustrated because I know she doesn't understand she's hurting someone. Can you help?

A: Biting is a normal behavior in toddlers; it's rare that a child will move through the first several years of her life without a biting incident. Biting is one of many aggressive behaviors (like hitting or pulling hair) toddlers use as they try out aggression as a problem solving technique. Kids who are biting at these young ages are not emotionally disturbed, so there's little need for serious intervention. They are usually rather social kids, equipped with few verbal skills and little self-control, who use biting as an effective mode of expressing their frustrations. Kids at this stage of development use biting because they can't use sophisticated language to make their points. Kids who are feeling some current degree of tension or frustration because of family changes (new day care provider, new baby in the family), developmental milestones (being potty trained, learning to walk), or physical ailments (ear infection, teething) may easily be moved to bite in response to any small frustration.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Biting a child back or spanking her are ineffective disciplinary responses.
  • Continue to tell your daughter in language that she understands that biting others is unacceptable.
  • Hold her a bit more than is usual to limit her physical contact with other kids.
  • Continue to show her other things that she may bite on in addition to this "bite cloth"--toys, rattles, etc.
  • Read her frustration levels. This will allow you to distract her and prevent a biting episode.
  • Always praise her when she uses non-biting means to problem-solve.
  • Ask yourself if there might be a physical or mental problem that might be contributing to her low levels of tolerance.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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