Have you got a toddler that likes to bite? Don’t panic, first of all, you are not alone, biting is very common in little ones, and it is easier to control than you might think. The experts say the key lies in trying your best to get to the underlying cause of the biting so that you can then develop the best plan to deal with it.
Basically, children bite in order to cope with a challenge or fulfill a need. For example, your child may be biting to express a strong feeling (like frustration), communicate a need for personal space (maybe another child is standing too close) or to satisfy a need for oral stimulation. If you can determine why your child is biting you can come up with the best way to curb the behavior. Toddlers might bite if they:
- Lack of language skills necessary for expressing important needs or strong feelings like anger, frustration, joy, etc. Biting is a substitute for the messages he can’t yet express in words like I am so mad at you, You are standing too close to me, I am really excited, or I want to play with you.
- Are overwhelmed by the sounds, light or activity level in the room they are in.
- Are experimenting to see what will happen.
- Need more active playtime.
- Are over-tired.
- Are teething.
- Have a need for oral stimulation.
Three Strategies to Prevent Biting
If you see signs that your child might be on the verge of biting, you can:
- Distract your child with a toy or book. Suggest looking out the window or take a walk to another room or outside. The goal is to reduce the tension and shift your child’s attention.
- Suggest how your child might better handle the situation. Say to your child, that instead of biting, that he or she needs to tell the person they want to bite, why they felt the need to do so. For example, “Jane, do not bite, you need to tell Jimmy, ‘You are a little too close to me, or I don’t like it when you touch my hair.’” If you think your child might be biting due to a need for oral stimulation, offer your child something he can safely bite and chew—a cracker, some carrot sticks, or a teether.
- Suggest ways to share. Take out a kitchen timer to give children a visual reminder of how long they can each play with a particular toy. In a group caregiving setting, you will want to make sure that the classroom has more than one of the most popular toys. Sharing is one of the most common triggers for biting.
Remember, learning a new behavior takes time. Your toddler may bite again, so continue watching playtime closely. It also helps to use the same words (No biting. Biting hurts.) as consistently as possible to emphasize the message.
While biting is very common behavior, it usually stops by age 3 to 3 ½. If your toddler continues to bite, or the number of bites increases instead of decreases over time, it is probably a good idea to request an assessment from a child development specialist.