There are two questions to answer when dealing with toddlers who bite: Why do toddlers bite? and What can I do to stop my toddler from biting?
Why do toddlers bite?
Toddlers may bite for any number of reasons. Figuring out why your toddler bites is the all important first step in getting your toddler to stop biting! Here are some reasons toddlers bite:
- Can’t yet express a message in words: Developmentally, young toddlers may not have the verbal skills to say, “I had that toy first”, “I don’t want you to touch me”, “I am really upset with you right now”, “I am very excited”. This can lead to biting instead of trying to communicate verbally.
- Curious about what will happen: Toddlers are little explorers. Exploring with biting is no different. They wonder what will happen if they bite a person.
- Teething: Toddlers are still getting teeth in. This can motivate some to bite.
- Need more oral stimulation
- Being Overly Tired
How can I stop my toddler’s biting?
There are different ways to help stop your toddler from biting.
To start, it’s often best to recognize what situations promote biting for your child. Does your child usually bite around a certain person or a specific event? Does your child bite when with a certain caregiver? Where is your child when he/she is most likely to bite? Understanding your child’s biting triggers can help you change the pattern.
When you know what is triggering the biting, you can try to prevent it.
- In situations that you know lead to biting, watch your child closely and step in when needed to show your child how to resolve the problem without biting.
- Try to redirect a child’s attention away from the issue that’s making him/her want to bite. Read a book, play with blocks, etc.
- If your child bites when tired, try to keep your toddler on a sleeping schedule that will keep him/her well rested.
- When your child does bite, say: “Don’t bite, biting hurts!” Then make sure you turn your attention to the child who got bit. You don’t want to give too much attention to the biter, even if it’s negative attention. If your child already knows not to bite and you feel he/she needs a timeout, that’s fine. Just don’t give too much attention to the biter.
- Later you can talk about the situation, when emotions have calmed down and help the child see other ways of handling the situation. Often toddlers bite because they really don’t know what else to do.
- Read books like “Teeth are Not for Biting” or other books that help children see that toddler biting is not acceptable.
- Give your child something that can be bit! This is good for teething toddlers and those who need more oral stimulation. Give a wet dishcloth, a teething ring, or vibrating teether.
- Provide a calm place your child can go when he/she is feeling overwhelmed. Maybe a little corner by a bookshelf, or a little chair they can sit or relax. Some children just need a break from too much stimulation.
- Reinforce the idea that we don’t bite because biting hurts!
Consistency always helps! Your toddler may not stop biting the first time you try to prevent it, but the frequency of biting should start to go down. And rest assured that a toddler’s habit of biting often ends well before the toddler years do!