Biting might perhaps seem like a scary and uncomfortable area to explore, however for toddlers biting is very common behaviour and of great concern for many parents.
From the time a baby starts teething biting is a behaviour that allows for exploration, be it a new toy, a favourite blanket, food or a set of keys. Babies use their mouth to explore. As they begin to understand the cause and effect of biting, their awareness grows at the reaction they can get by biting.
Here are some of the many reasons why toddlers bite:
- Lack of language
- Expressing a strong emotion such as frustration, fear or anger
- Are overwhelmed
- Are experimenting
- Need more playtime
- Are over-tired
- Are teething
- Have need for oral stimulation
When a child is caught biting, labelling the child and thinking of them as a biter can actually intensify the biting behaviour rather than eliminating it. Discipline is not necessarily the correct form of action to take, as in many cases the child does not realise that biting hurts.
Below is a guide for steps that can be taken when biting has occurred.
- Keep your own feelings in check. It is normal to have reactions of frustration, anger, embarrassment and/or worry. Find a calm place within yourself first and foremost.
- In a firm matter-of-fact voice address child that has bitten with a simple “no biting” or “biting hurts”. Keep it simple and clear, easy for a toddler to understand.
- Take care of the child that has been bitten first. Calming them with kind words, cuddles and clean the bite area. Shifting the energy to the child that has been bitten clearly communicates that biting does not result in more attention.
- Once the child that has been bitten is feeling better, approach the child who did the biting and explain the effect biting has. It is important not to reinforce the negative behavior but it is ok to comfort the child if they are feeling upset about hurting another child. Suggest some different strategies that the child can use for next time, using words such as “no,” “stop,” and “that’s mine” to communicate their needs.
- Redirect attention to a more positive activity, especially if energy levels are running high or if boredom has set in. Constructive ways to release energy that allows them to relax, such as play-dough, drawing or playing in sand or water are ideal.
Biting can be a somewhat stressful event for everyone involved, however it is an inevitable part of life for children especially in group situations. It may be easy to think this is another phase and it will pass too, however as parents you need to consistently take steps to prevent biting and then work to manage the situation in a calm and effective manner when it does occur.
So the next time you find yourself in a biting situation, stay calm, be clear, console the child that has been bitten, suggest some new strategies and shift focus onto a new activity.