Diana Lilly of San Diego, says that when she learned her 16-month-old daughter Julianne was biting at daycare, she was "surprised, unhappy, and hoped it was a one-time incident that would never happen again." Unfortunately her daughter has continued to occasionally bite the children around her.
If your toddler bites another child, your first reaction is likely similar to Lilly's—perhaps including disbelief and horror. While hitting and grabbing are sometimes viewed as completely normal and expected behavior, many parents believe that biting is unusual or a sign of deeper problems. On a purely instinctual level, biting seems more primitive to some parents, and they feel it requires a stronger immediate response that a shove or a slap.
But experts concur that toddlers bite as frequently as they hit, and you really can't tell which toddler will engage in the behavior. Your best bet is to note the situations in which biting occurs and plan your strategy to curb the behavior accordingly.
If Biting Happens
Toddlers tend to bite other toddlers, rather than adults or older children, for a variety of reasons. One reason is that toddlers tend to become overstimulated or frustrated easily and don't yet have the language skills to express themselves. Another is that toddlers are notoriously bad sharers and use biting and physical aggression to get the toys they want or keep the toys that they have. So it's no wonder that biting often occurs in daycare—one of the few places where children are largely in the company of their peers.
If you suddenly learn that your toddler has bitten a playmate, what should you do? "Parents need to look at what was happening when the biting occurred. Is something happening to this child? Is there enough supervision at daycare? Are there enough toys in the environment?" says Dr. Dawn Cardwell of Guiding Hands Pediatrics in South Orange, New Jersey. "You'll also want to know whether there are other biters currently at the daycare to see if your child is imitating other children's behavior."
Gretchen Kinnell, director of education and training for Child Care Solutions, a Syracuse, New York, childcare resource and referral agency, and author of No Biting: Policy and Practice for Toddler Programs, says that if your child bites a peer at daycare, a good childcare program will have strategies to help make this developmental phase short-lived.
"Parents should expect caregivers and the director to have training specific to biting. They shouldn't have a one-size-fits-all approach," Kinnell says. "The program should be putting their efforts into getting the child to exhibit more appropriate behavior. [The parents] need to look at [the daycare] programs, because one of the reasons children are biting could be the environment at daycare."