Despair Not: 8 Ways To Handle A Toddler Who Bites

mm Early Years March 2, 2016 by
toddler biting

Toddler biting is one of those especially puzzling child-rearing issues. The toddler years are crucial for the development of language, motor and social skills. As children begin to interact more actively with the world around them, they have the opportunity to sharpen all of these skills, but they may also demonstrate some challenging toddler behavior problems. A very common one is — cue the Jaws theme song — biting.

Toddler biting is a problematic behavior because it can inflict damage very quickly, even though the child who bites is more than likely not intending to hurt another child. Most day care centers and schools have firm policies in place to deter repeat biting. Parents should be alert, but not overly worried, as those first bites are inevitable and don’t yet signal a problem. “Biting and hitting are totally normal behaviors for a toddler,” says pediatrician Michel Cohen. “If you give these events minimal attention and enforce boundaries properly, you won’t see more than a few exploratory bites.”

If your toddler decides to persist, make sure not to refer to him as a “biter.” Labeling a child will only perpetuate the behavior. Instead, here are some toddler biting solutions for repeat offenders.

  • Understand Why

    It is helpful to put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to guess what causes her to bite. Is she trying to communicate something but unable to? Is she finding it difficult to accomplish a task and getting frustrated? Observe the environment in which the biting tends to occur and the time of day. Perhaps the child is overwhelmed by the surroundings or too tired to engage in social contact.

  • Preempt & Divert Attention

    This is one of the easier toddler biting solutions. Once you understand what triggers your child’s biting attempts try to avoid it. If you are already in a situation that causes your child to want to bite, either find an activity in which to channel the energy instead, or remove your child from the situation. “The fewer chances he has to bite, the less he’ll bite,” says Cohen.

  • Keep Your Cool

    No matter how frustrated you feel when your toddler bites, you must make every effort to remain calm. Getting a rise out of you is read as positive attention even when it is the exact opposite, and your child will interpret that as reinforcement.

  • Say it Simply

    After a biting attempt, in a calm voice, explain to your child that the behavior is not acceptable and should not happen again. Resist the urge to go on for more than 10 words and don’t lecture your child just to appease other parents. If you are home, follow the statement with a cool-off period in your customary way.

  • Give Attention to the Child Who Was Bitten

    After your child has bitten, one of the toddler biting solutions some experts recommend giving attention to the child who received the bite rather than inflicted it. This signals to the toddler, who may be after extra attention that biting is not the appropriate way to get it, and that it will actually result in the opposite effect.

  • Put it Into Words for Her

    If you see the behavior brewing, try to navigate your child’s frustration or inability to express her feelings with her. If you help her to say what’s on her mind or accomplish her task, she might decide to bypass the biting altogether.

  • Help Him Move On

    In the same vein, it is helpful to transition to appropriate play and engaging activities after the biting behavior has been addressed. Dwelling on the incident will only inflate its importance and therefore its incidence.

  • Get Help

    If you practice all these techniques with your child and he begins to bite more rather than less, or if he is older than 3½ and none of your toddler biting solutions are working, you may want to seek professional help in correcting the behavior.

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