What's The Best Way To Handle A Toddler Who Bites?
Updated: May 6, 2022
So, your usually sweet toddler has started to bite people. Whether it is at daycare or at home, this presents a huge problem for us as parents. No one wants to be the parent of the mean kid. But not to worry, biting with toddlers is actually pretty common, and it can be easy to curb the habit if you do it right.
Why toddlers bite.
Toddlers are just starting to explore the world for the first time, and they don't really know how things work. They may start to bite or hit initially just to see what happens. Then they get a big reaction. They don't really understand that they have hurt someone, since they don't really understand about feelings yet. So, they think the big reaction is exciting, and they do it again.
Our daughter had a fascination with mouths and teeth when she was about 1-2 years old. Not only did she bite us a few times, she would also reach into other people's mouths to touch their teeth. We used to call her our little dentist. Teeth are new for kids this age, who are getting teeth for the first time. Since little ones have a tendency to put everything into their mouth, this is one reason why biting at this age is common.
Additionally, once kids have bitten once and gotten a reaction out of someone, they may bite again as a sign of anger or frustration.
According to Kids Health, "Biting is common in babies and toddlers, but it should stop when kids are about 3 or 4 years old. If it goes beyond this age, is excessive, seems to be getting worse rather than better, and happens with other upsetting behaviors, talk to your child's doctor. Together you can find its causes and ways to deal with it."
How to stop biting.
When our daughter had started to bite people, we would tell her, "Don't bite, biting hurts people." The first time I told her that it hurt when she bit me, she actually burst out into tears, clearly she had no clue that it had hurt.
It is important to reinforce this message consistently in a calm way if your toddler bites again.
If a child is biting out of anger, you can explain other ways to redirect their anger. I tell my daughter, "It is OK to be angry, but we don't hurt people when we get angry." If the behavior persists, it is alright to put them into a short, age-appropriate time out.
When I do time outs with my kids, I do a "child-directed" time out. I will tell them to go sit somewhere like their room or in the corner, and then tell them that they can come out when they are ready to apologize. The length of time will depend on the child, their age, and how stubborn they are. But this way, to some degree, the child is in charge of the punishment, and you still get the desired result.
According to Kids Health, "Never hit or bite a child who has bitten, as this teaches the child that this behavior is OK." I mention this because my aunt was disciplined this way as a child; she was bitten as an adult for biting. A punishment like this can be very frightening for a child, and potentially traumatic.
In toddlers, biting is fairly common. You should not worry that something is wrong with your child if they have started biting.
You can usually stop the behavior fairly quickly as well, by explaining to the child that biting hurts other people and is not good behavior. If you reinforce this or use time outs, and you are still struggling with your child biting, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider for additional resources.
Let me know in the comments what you think, and if these strategies work for you. And as always, let me know in the comments other topics that you would like me to cover in the future.
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