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Toddlers do the most adorable things: Give unexpected hugs, squeal with laughter, and cuddle up to you when they're tired.

But as any parent of a toddler will tell you, they also do some not-so-adorable things, like kick, scream ... or bite.

Biting is quite common in kids this age, but that's little consolation if your toddler bites. After all, no one wants their child to be considered the menace of the play group. And worse yet, kids who are labeled "biters" may get kicked out of childcare centers — a challenge that no working parent wants to face.

You may think biting is just another phase you'll have to live through, but that's not necessarily the case. There are ways to get to the bottom of your toddler's biting habit. Here's how to help curb this type of behavior.

Why Toddlers Bite

Biting is very common in early childhood. Babies and toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, such as teething or exploring a new toy or object with their mouth. As they begin to understand cause-and-effect, they also might bite a person to see if they can get a reaction.

Biting also can be a way for toddlers to get attention or express how they're feeling. Frustration, anger, and fear are strong emotions and toddlers lack the language skills to deal with them. So if they can't find the words they need quickly enough or can't say how they're feeling, they may bite as a way of saying, "Pay attention to me!" or "I don't like that!"

Biting is slightly more common in boys and tends to happen most often between the first and second birthday. As language improves, biting tends to lessen.

How to Curb Biting

With biting, it's important to deal with the behavior immediately after it happens. The next time your child bites, try these steps:

Discipline usually is not necessary, since most kids don't realize biting hurts.

If you've tried the steps above and the behavior doesn't stop, timeouts may be effective. Older toddlers may be taken to a designated timeout area — a kitchen chair or bottom stair — for a minute or two to calm down.

As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for timeouts. Shorter timeouts can be effective, but longer ones have no added benefit and can sometimes undermine your efforts if your child gets up (and refuses to return) before you signal that the timeout has ended.

Creating a 'Bite-Free' Environment

Whether you feel like you've made progress with your child's biting habit or it continues to be a work-in-progress, it's important to create a zero-tolerance culture at home, daycare, and elsewhere.

Here are some ways to get your little one back on the right track:

When to Seek Help

Although biting is common in babies and toddlers, it should stop at about 3 or 4 years of age. Excessive biting, biting that seems to be getting worse rather than better, and other hostile behaviors might mean you need to get additional help.

If you're concerned about your child's behavior, talk to your pediatrician about finding out its causes as well as ways to deal with it.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2016

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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