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 communicate how they are feeling. 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:
Step 1: Be calm and firm. Address your child
with a firm "no biting!" or "biting hurts!" Keep it simple and easy for a toddler
to understand. Make it clear that biting is wrong, but avoid lengthy explanations
until your child is old enough to understand. Remaining as calm as possible will help
resolve the situation more quickly.
Step 2:Comfort the victim. Direct your attention
to the person who has been bitten, especially if it's another child. If there is an
injury, clean the area with soap and water. Seek medical care if the bite is deep
Step 3:Comfort the biter, if need be. Often,
toddlers don't realize that biting hurts. It's OK to comfort a child who's feeling
upset about hurting someone. Older toddlers might learn from being allowed to comfort
their friend after a bite. But if the biter is using the behavior to get attention,
you don't want to reinforce this behavior by giving comfort and attention.
Step 4: Offer alternatives. When things have calmed down, suggest
alternatives to biting, like using the words "no," "stop," and "that's mine" when
wanting to communicate with others.
Step 5: Redirect. Distraction works wonders with kids this age.
If emotions and energy levels are running high or if boredom has set in, help redirect
a little one's attention to a more positive activity, like dancing to music, coloring,
or playing a game.
usually is not necessary, as most kids don't realize biting hurts. Never hit or bite
a child who has bitten, as this teaches the child that this behavior is OK.
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.
Longer timeouts have no added benefit. They also can 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:
Be consistent. Reinforce the "No biting" rule at all times.
Use positive reinforcement. Rather than reward negative actions
with attention, make it a point to praise your child when he or she behaves well.
You can use statements such as, "I like how you used your words" or "I like how you're
playing gently" to reinforce positive alternatives to biting.
Plan ahead. Toddlers might be more comfortable and not feel the
urge to bite if they know what to expect in new or high-energy situations. If biting
happens at childcare, tell your child what to expect before you go. If a larger, more
chaotic environment seems overwhelming, you might consider putting your child in a
Find alternatives. As language skills develop, you can help your
child find better ways to express negative emotions. For example, asking kids to "use
their words" when they're frustrated or upset can help calm them. If you need help,
a doctor, counselor, or behavioral specialist can discuss ways to teach your child
to manage strong emotions and express feelings in a healthy way.
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 child's doctor about
finding its causes as well as ways to deal with it.