Ask the Mamas: My Toddler Won’t Stop Biting!

Each week, we will ask our mamas a question from our readers that pertains to babies, toddler, or parenting. Make sure to check back each Tuesday to see their responses!

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Mama Say What reader Mary asks:

My toddler is 27 months old and he has started biting me whenever I tell him “no.” He’ll do this even when I redirect him without using the word “no.” He seldom does this with anyone else (with my husband only once in a blue moon), but with me, it’s several times a day. I’m desperate for help and advice!

“Ah, I wish I had an answer for you, but unfortunately, I am dealing with a biter myself (I say that she gets it from her dad since his mom SWEARS he was biting until he was three). One thing I haven’t and won’t try is biting her back… In my opinion, that doesn’t teach her not to bite since L follows by my example. We do time-outs, and they seem to work to an extent. I have read that a time-out is only effective in a separate room and I do agree with that.” ~ Miriam R.

Image by Cari Hollis Photography

“I am right there with you, we started the biting phase at about 12-13 months as soon as my little man transitioned to the toddler room at daycare, oh the joys! I think you are absolutely on the right track trying to redirect and give simple commands such as “no.” He is clearly testing the boundaries since he is only doing this with you. For whatever reason, he is enjoying the attention (positive or negative) from you. In your situation, I would entirely ignore the behavior. When he bites, I would say “it hurts mommy when you bite” and then walk away and spend a few minutes away. It’s almost the opposite of a time-out you are putting yourself in time out and proving to your little guy that he won’t be receiving any attention (positive or negative) when he displays that type of behavior. It may just take some time… hopefully not too long, because that gets old really fast!” ~ Corey P.

“C hasn’t bitten yet, (thankfully!) but she does the same with hitting. It’s more like swiping, which tells me she is doing it for the attention and not that she actually intends to hurt. I haven’t found an easy solution but this is what we do: when she hits, we make a big deal of showing that it hurts. (Ow! That hurt, why did you hit mommy!? in a loud-ish, stern voice—but not yelling at her.) Then we ask her to say she’s sorry (or she signs it). If she won’t say she’s sorry or if she responds to that by hitting again—which does happen— then we go for a “modified time-out,” where we calmly sit her down and tell her she has to stay there until she can calm her body and she is ready to say sorry for hitting. Usually, she will figure out how to calm herself down within a minute or so. Once she says sorry in either case, we ask her to show us how to use gentle hands, and she’ll touch our face or hands or whatever nicely, or she’ll give a hug. Then we quickly re-direct. If I’m too tired or frustrated to do all that, then I just stick with re-direction. As with everything with toddlers, remember that it’s only a phase. It’s difficult, but it *will* pass!” ~ Cassie W.

“My son sometimes does this. He does it as a way of showing he isn’t pleased that I’m telling him no. The first couple of times I just tell him no, don’t bite. If he continues, he gets a time-out. A lot of the time I can tell when he is about to bite and can redirect before it happens.” ~ Amanda P.

“At this young age, most kids don’t have the ability to understand empathy and that their actions hurt others. It’s something most kids don’t start to figure out until age three or four. Also, many kids don’t always bite out of anger; they just are expressing a new emotion and are still figuring out how to process it. A few times, TJ bit me when he was excited about something.  We were lucky that TJ wasn’t a huge biter. We tried our best to redirect into hugs and kisses if he looked like he was going in for a bite. And we would say, “we love hugs, not bites.” The few times he actually did bite, he was told a very stern, “No, we do not bite! Biting hurts!” For us, time-outs did not work. He would not sit in one place and had to be physically held down. It was pointless to force them. I know they work great for some kids, just not ours.

I do not like the idea of biting your kid back (which someone told me to try). It just reinforces the biting in my opinion. Instead, maybe try gently pressing their teeth into their own arm. Not when you are angry and not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to show teeth marks. It can help them make the connection that biting can hurt. Aside from that, like with all quirks with toddler-hood, this too shall pass.” ~ Alex T.

“When we deal with situation with Anna, I get down on her level and make eye contact with her. I tell her that hitting/biting etc. is not okay and that it hurts. I let her see that the person she bit is hurting. As she gets older and develops empathy, I know she will learn to understand that better. But, right now I try to let her work her problems out on her own, so long as she doesn’t hurt anyone. As of right now, I do not believe in time-outs and I do not believe in making a child feel bad for expressing themselves, but I do want her to learn to understand that hitting and biting is not an appropriate form of expression.” ~ Jessica S.

“I remember a little boy from my playgroup (25 years ago!) who would bite and not let go. It was very upsetting for all involved. First off, remember that biting for toddlers is not usually malicious. It is merely a statement of frustration by a kid who isn’t good at expressing himself verbally yet. Usually, at the heart of the issue is a perceived offense. The biting serves two purposes: 1. Biting makes the offender quit whatever it is they are doing, and 2. Biting elicits a response from the grown-ups.

The first time a kid bites, you react the way you do because you aren’t expecting it. The best response is to tell the kiddo that biting hurts and they must never do it again. Say this calmly and FIRMLY, without yelling. If the kiddo bites again, a stronger response is required. That being said, there is still no need for yelling. Here is the process I would use: First: squat down, make eye contact and put your hands on kiddos shoulders and say, “no biting ever! Biting hurts very much!” Take the kiddo immediately to a time-out where they can still see as you make sure the bitten child is properly comforted. (Remember: one minute per year of age for time out). Go back to the kiddo and again, making eye contact say “if you are angry about something, tell mommy, but never, ever bite, because it hurts.” Make the kiddo apologize and give them a hug.

You must do this exactly the same each time a bite occurs. Consistency makes your child know what will happen every time if he bites: firm reprimand, time out, sympathy for the one that was bitten and an apology. I hope this helps!” ~Sue F.

The advice given here is solely based on our individual experiences and in no way is it going to be perfect for every mama, every baby, and every situation. None of us are medical doctors. If you have a question regarding a medical topic we can give our opinions, but please consult with your doctor. We are not liable or responsible for the results of following any specific advice in any given situation.

By Corey P.

Corey lives in a suburb of Denver with her husband and boys Landon and Ryan. She stays busy with two little ones under 2 years old! Corey spends her weekdays working with kiddos at Children's Hospital Colorado as a Developmental & Learning Specialist but loves more than anything coming home and spending time with all of her boys! On weekends she enjoys spending time outside, cooking, and turning her house into a home.

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