Q&A: My toddler bites me when she hugs me. How can I make her stop?
My toddler has started to bite. She does not bite in spite or anger; it is when she feels overwhelming love for me. She will accidentally bite me when she is hugging me. I have tried to tell her that this is unacceptable, but she does not understand.
Biting is unquestionably a frustrating behavior. That said, it also happens to be what I have concluded is the least socially acceptable of all of the normal behaviors of early childhood. Yes, biting is normal. And yes, kids do outgrow it. But I imagine you— like most parents—are hoping to have your daughter outgrow this habit sooner rather than later. As the owner of an educational childcare center, in addition to being a pediatrician, I have definitely dealt with a lot of biting. Let me first assure you that a) you are not the only parent of a 2-year-old who bites and b) she will grow out of it.
As for what you can do about it now, you have already taken a big step in the right direction by identifying why it is your daughter bites. For some children, it’s hunger, teething, or fatigue. For others, frustration—when they want to do something they can’t, when they can’t do something they want to, or when they want something they can’t have. In just about all instances, however, biting seems to come down to impulse control—something that toddlers simply don’t have a lot of.
In your daughter’s case, she unfortunately seems to have the impulse to bite as a way of showing affection when she’s hugging you. While I would point out that this is preferable to biting out of anger when she wants a toy that another child is playing with, for example, I’m sure it isn’t exactly a pleasant experience for you! Instead of trying to simply explain the unacceptability of her actions—which you are correct in worrying that she may not yet understand—I suggest you act abruptly if and when she next bites you. Set her down decisively while at the same time making your disapproval and discomfort clear. There’s no need to be angry, and I certainly don’t agree with what I consider to be the misguided “bite her back” approach. Instead, make use of the fact that she clearly wants your love and attention by consistently reacting the same way and she’ll hopefully learn quickly that biting doesn’t result in any desirable consequences.