Interrupt the behavior:
“No biting. Sit down right here in this spot. We’ll talk about it in a minute.”
Help the victim: “I know that really hurt. Here, let me help you feel better.”
Reflect both children’s feelings:
[To child who bit] “I can see that you felt frustrated and angry.”
[To child who was bitten] “And you felt scared and then sad.”
Define the problem:
“I see the problem—you both wanted to play with the same doll at the very same time. That was the problem.”
Clarify the limit:
– “We always touch people gently, even when we’re upset or angry.
– If you hurt people, you’ll have to stay next to me.
– I won’t let you play with the children when you hurt them.”
Provide two relevant solutions to the child who bit, one for expressing feelings and one for needs.
Select and match an age-appropriate suggestion to each incident:
“Next time you feel upset, you can…”
– Take a big, deep breath, like blowing out a candle
– Clench your teeth and make a ‘grrrr’ sound
– Breathe in and out through your front teeth
– Squeeze your fists together tightly
You can tell the other child…”
– I don’t like that!”
– “I need that next, ok?”
– “No grabbing—I’m using this right now!”
– “How many minutes until you’re done?”
– “Want to trade that for this…?”
For toddlers and twos, suggest shorter phrases they can manage:
– “Be careful!”
– “Move over!”
– “Stop it!”
– “No” or “Hey!”
Put closure on the situation and re-engage in play:
– “Remember, you can always say ‘Help!’ and a teacher will come to you.
– I’m glad you’re all done biting. Let’s go do…”


Biting is common among toddlers (1-2) and twos. It occasionally happens with threes.

(Click on the red buttons below to see how you can help your child)

Unfortunately, biting is not an uncommon occurrence among very young children, especially in toddler and two year old group care. It is typically a behavior that some children demonstrate only briefly, moving on to other more appropriate ways of expressing their feelings. Biting occurs for many different reasons.

A child’s personal  experiences and recent changes may provide some clues as to what is causing the child to act out, filling in some of the missing puzzle pieces. Knowing more about the child’s past experiences and recent changes will help you design meaningful, lasting solutions for the future.

There are many concrete things people can do to help a child communicate. A key to success is modeling verbal expressions for children during these potent developmental stages. Being able to express oneself in words can go a long way in stopping biting behavior.

Sometimes it may simply be a case of better management of a hungry child or cold items offered to a teething toddler. Children who are frequently irritable should be seen by a pediatrician to treat or rule out: ear infections, allergies, chronic constipation, or other conditions. Are there problems with motor skills that are impacting his or her play?

What causes children to behave in such different ways. How much is influenced by environmental changes and how much is simply “hardwired” or inborn? How can two siblings be so different, even when they were raised by the same parents, in the same home, with the same toys, etc.? Temperament refers to the traits your child is born with; it is her natural, inborn style of responding to events and her environment.

As young children explore the world around them, they use the environment in increasingly sophisticated ways to build on their knowledge of themselves and the larger world. Their environments should be steeped in sensory experiences that are positive, educational, and enriching, not stressful and frustrating.

Young children have much to learn about their world; however, they are at a distinct disadvantage because they don’t know their boundaries yet. It may be that the child is confused by conflicting rules, broad expectations, negative handling, or inconsistent management. It is crucial to look at the child’s past and current experiences with limit setting.


Make observations with the Seven Questions in mind.
Document biting episodes.
Review Injury and Incident reports, observations, and notes with involved adults.
Write up an Action Plan.
Implement the Action Plan, with reviews every few days to make any needed adjustments.

  1. How much of the child’s behavior is related to typical social/emotional development?
  2. Are my expectations in line with the child’s current developmental capabilities?
  3. What are some proactive things I can do to help the child develop empathy, impulse control, and a broader vocabulary of words for feelings?
  4. Are there some past or present experiences that have influenced this behavior?
  5. Am I minimizing the emotional impact of some recent changes in the child’s life?
  6. What changes do I need to make to reduce stressors that are within my control?
  7. Is the child’s physical condition a contributing factor?
  8. Is there an underlying health problem that is causing irritability?
  9. Is lack of sleep or hunger part of the problem?
  10. Is the lack of verbal skills causing frustration?
  11. Does this child seem to be struggling to communicate clearly?
  12. Should I proactively use more speech and language tools with this child: extension, commentary, self-talk, starter phrases, wondering, etc.?
  13. What role does this child’s temperament play in this behavior?
  14. Are any of the temperament traits contributing to this behavior problem?
  15. Am I putting the child in situations that are overwhelming his or her ability to deal with people in a positive way due to a lack of “good fit”?
  16. How does the physical environment of home and/or school affect the child’s behavior?
  17. Are struggles made worse by lack of items, space, or softness, stressful challenges, etc.?
  18. Could typical struggles be caused by sensory over-stimulation?
  19. What kind of limit setting is the child experiencing?
  20. Am I using clear, consistent, authoritative limit-setting philosophy?
  21. Is my style calm and firm, or do I find myself frequently resorting to shouting, sarcasm, threats force, shame etc.

After making any necessary changes based on the Seven Questions above, polish up your intervention techniques by remembering the steps below. After intervening to stop the hurtful action, separate the children as necessary and help the victim. Then:
* Use active listening to reflect everyone’s feelings
* Define the problem
* Clarify the limit
* Provide a relevant solution
* Teach verbal tools
* Put closure on the situation.

Intervention for pushing: Toddler
“Allison, you wanted the bear and you felt frustrated when Milo wouldn’t give it to you, so you pushed him down. He hurt his head on the floor, which made him sad, right Milo? I’m glad you’re feeling better now, Milo. Allison, I can’t let you near Milo when you push him. We always touch people gently. Allison, look at me…. If you feel like pushing because you want a toy that someone is using, you can take a big breath and ask ‘Mine?’ Then Milo will know you are waiting for the next turn. I know it’s hard to wait so you can sit with me. I’ll help you wait. What do you want to play with until Milo is done with the bear? When he puts it down, it’ll be your turn.”

Intervention for hitting: Two-year-old
“Andres, it bothered you when Patrick got close to your puzzle and you hit him. That hurt Patrick and made him angry … and then Patrick hit you back! It was really hard for both of you, but hurting people is not okay; you must always touch people gently. Listen, … if you feel like hitting, just squeeze your hands into a tight fist like this [demonstrate], hold them down, and say, ‘Move over’ or ‘Don’t do that to me.’ You can also use a loud voice to say ‘Help!’ and I’ll come help you. Understand? Great! Now, let’s go find two puzzles and some space at the table for each of you.”

Intervention for kicking: Three-year-old
So, Megan, the problem is that you felt disappointed because Riley said she didn’t want to dance with you, and it hurt your feelings. Then you got mad and kicked Riley in the leg, so she got hurt and felt sad, too. Listen to me, Megan, you can stomp your foot when you feel upset, but kicking is never okay. If Riley says she won’t dance with you, can you think of another idea, a better solution to your problem? [Possible ideas to discuss: Megan can ask Riley why she doesn’t want to dance with her. Maybe Riley’s worried Megan will accidentally bump into her because of her exuberance, so perhaps Megan can dance farther apart; she can find someone else to dance with; she can offer Riley another play idea; or she can talk to an adult about it.] Those are some good ideas. Which one will you try first next time? … I’m glad we talked this through and you both feel better now. What would you like to do next?”


– [Child’s name], listen …
– Here’s a thought …
– How about this idea …
– I’ve got an idea for you …
– What do you think about this …
– I wonder if …
– Maybe this idea would work …
– Aha I see what the problem is

Active Listening Feeling Phrases
Reflect the feeling, describe the situation

– “You feel very____ because …”
– “It sounds like you feel ______ because …”
– “You’re having trouble with ____ and that feels ___.”
– “It seems to me that you feel ____ because”
– “Looks like you feel _____ because …”