University of Illinois Extension

When You Have a Pint-Sized Biter

Diane G. Ryals, Family Life Educator

Biting is normal and common among toddlers. Sometimes, they are simply using their teeth to explore or relieve teething pain. Biting can also be a sign of being tired or hungry. Or, it can be a way for them to get what they want. If you have a grandchild who bites, try these ideas to prevent it from happening:

  • Avoid acting with extreme alarm. First take care of the child who has been bitten. Tell the child who did the biting, "It is not okay to bite. It hurts Sam when you bite him. He's crying. If you need to bite, you can bite this (cloth, toy, food, etc.), but you may not bite Sam or any other child."
  • Determine what is really happening. When does the biting occur? Who is involved? Where does it happen? What happens before or afterward? How old is the child and how was the situation handled?
  • If biting occurs because of exploration or teething, provide the child with a cloth or teething ring to gnaw on.
  • If the child bites when tired or hungry, look at your daily routine to be sure he is getting enough sleep and nourishment.
  • If biting happens when two children want the same toy, purchase a duplicate toy. Trying to get very young children to share does not work.
  • If you think the child is biting for attention, spend more time together doing positive things. Teach the child to use words when frustrated. Even the words "Mine!" or "No!" are preferable to biting. If your grandchild bites because of a stressful situation, make life as supportive and normal as possible. Predictable meals and bedtimes, and extra time with a loving adult can help. Also, provide the child with stress-relieving activities such as rolling, squishing, and pounding play dough.

Just remember that it takes time and patience for healing to occur in painful situations.