Why Do Toddlers Bite?

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Studies show that nearly half of all children in daycare will be bitten by another child. This lesson goes over the causes of this behavior in toddlers.

Biting is Common Behavior

Sondra is upset: her two year old son, Austin, bit his best friend on the playground today. She and the other mom dealt with the situation appropriately, but she would really like to help Austin stop this behavior as quickly as possible. She scours websites and parenting magazines looking for answers. Sondra is more than a little surprised to find out that biting is a very common behavior for children under three years of age. In fact, some studies show that nearly half of all children in daycare get bitten. They do it for a variety of reasons, so let's take a look at them.

'Pardon Me, I Believe you Are Using My Toy.'

Probably the biggest reason that children under the age of three bite is they don't yet have the words to express their emotions, particularly the strong ones. If another child starts using a toy they were using, they are not yet capable of expressing their frustration well. They might say, 'Mine!' - which is a good start. However, the chances are very high that the other child either does not understand what that phrase means or they also think the toy is 'Mine!', too. Hitting or biting in this situation is a reaction to not being able to express their emotions adequately. Sondra is pretty sure this was not the case with Austin at the playground today. She meets the other mom there regularly and no toys were in the vicinity when the biting happened.

Children often bite because they are not able to communicate with words.

'This is My Territory, Back Off!'

In her search, Sondra comes across another piece that describes how children can be territorial - especially in new situations or familiar situations with a twist. For example, it is fairly normal for a small group of playmates to exclude a newcomer. The existing group might not like the intrusion on their play time and the newcomer might also feel excluded. Either feeling could escalate to biting behaviors -the toddlers do not understand the emotions they are feeling and even if they did, they still don't have the words to express them. Sondra rules this possibility out as well: Austin and his friend often play together and no other children were at the playground today.

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