Toddlers Biting: Reasons and Recommendations 

By: Christine Hemelians, MSOT, OTR/L

Toddlers biting can be a daily struggle. Are you constantly stressed out for playdates? Does your toddler bite at daycare or preschool? Are they biting you at home or their toys and furniture? Biting is common for toddlers; however, this sounds to be more excessive, and it’s important to parse out why. 

Here are some possible reasons as to why your kiddo might be biting. 

1) Teething

This is the most common and 1st reason parents assume that biting continues. You may notice that:

  • Biting comes with expression of pain
  • Toddler is fussier than usual
  • It’s been happening for a few days to a week, but not longer than that

Use: teething gels, cold cloths, teething toys

If the reason your toddle is biting is for teething, it’s important to address it correctly. Instead of saying “no biting”, frame the action so that it’s not behavioral. Try something like this: “Ow, your teeth are hurting me, let’s try a chewy toy instead.” 

2) Proprioceptive seeker

If your toddler is constantly moving, crashing, bumping into things, or falling, then this might be the reason as to why they’re biting; because, they’re seeking proprioceptive input. 

Behaviors associated with proprioceptive seekers include being clumsy, pushing and crashing into things (i.e., people, furniture, etc.), falling on purpose, having high energy, always running, jumping, and moving, or hitting and biting when unprovoked.

If you notice these things, work with an occupational therapist that might be able to evaluate and tailor a sensory diet specific to your child’s needs. This will include activities throughout the day that provide input to the muscles and joints that will likely stop or reduce the biting episodes. The type of activities, number of activities, and length of each activity will be dependent upon your child’s sensory processing needs. 

3) Nutrient deficiency or Pica

Is your toddler biting and eating non-food items? Or chewing furniture? 

  • Nutrient deficiency (lacking iron) 
  • Pica is an eating disorder that involves eating non-food items (applicable if eating non-food items for at least a month)

If you suspect that this might be the case, then contact your pediatrician to accurately identify the cause. Make a list of detailed examples as to what your child bites and provide photos. 

4) Oral Sensory Seeking

Nursing, sucking a pacifier, or a bottle is generally calming for babies, or exploring toys with their mouth. If your toddler has sensory processing challenges, they may continue to seek these sensations in an effort to better explore their environment or regulate themselves.

Behaviors associated with oral sensory seeking includes: mouthing EVERYTHING, licking things, difficulty weaning off pacifier, chewing shirt or blanket, sucking lip/ thumb, biting when unprovoked

  • Oral stimulation activities: blowing, eating crunchy food, resistive sucking from a bottle
  • Sensory chew toys or chewy necklaces 

5) Emotional Expression

Biting can be a result of your toddler expressing their emotions. Or, it may be a combination of emotional reasons, as well as the reasons mentioned above. 

Anger, frustration, overstimulation/ excitement, stress, etc. 

Work on improving and promoting emotional intelligence and social skills. Books that may be helpful: Teeth are Not for Biting, Little Dinos Don’t Bite, People Don’t Bite People

 

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