Toddler biting is an awkward reality of life. Toddler’s chew on everything from parents to other siblings or pets and sometimes other children. It’s when they start chomping on others that it can get a bit uncomfortable. The good news is that this behaviour is often temporary.
Children from the moment they begin teething, to around 3 years-of-age will gnaw on things. Knowing how to stop your toddler from biting begins by understanding why they do it. In many cases biting is not misbehaviour, but it is a behaviour that you will want to change quickly.
Often surfacing during toddler development in child group care, biting affects children, families and Educators. It inspires a dramatic response and can cause anxiety for both sets of families and children. It’s critical for everyone involved to know the behaviour is being addressed.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- Understanding children’s biting behaviours.
- How to react when a baby bites.
- Tips on how to stop your child from biting.
- When biting is more than just a momentary thing.
Understanding children’s biting behaviours
Babies and toddlers bite for many reasons. Generally, biting behaviours are recognised as a normal developmental phenomenon. Biters often emerge before the age of 3 in children who are beginning but not yet able to express their feelings verbally.
However, when biting is frequent, it may be considered dysfunctional. Observation and documentation can help distinguish between normal and dysfunctional biting with the latter being attributed to sensory integration difficulties or other causes.
Toddler biting can be a natural response to:
1. Teething: Babies like to gnaw on things and people when their teeth are growing as applying pressure to the gums is soothing.
2. Frustrations: Anger, difficulty communicating, too many demands and a lack of space are all scenarios that can cause a child to get frustrated and bite.
3. Impulsiveness: When the child thinks biting is a game.
4. Copying other children: They see another kid biting and then decide to try it.
5. Seeking attention: They know they will get some attention if they bite another child.
6. Exploring: Some toddlers use their mouth to explore taste and feel.
How to respond to kids biting
The best thing to do when a child bites another is to act calmly and with understanding.
Speak clearly to the child. Let them know biting is wrong. You can say to the child ‘No biting,’ or ‘Biting hurts.’ It’s essential to deal with biting calmly, so it doesn’t create additional problems like leaving the biter feeling they are a terrible child.
If you’re the first responder comfort the bitten child. Clean any injury with soap and water and seek medical advice if it’s a deep cut.
You may also need to comfort the child who did the biting. They may not yet be aware that biting hurts others. How much comfort you provide will depend on the reason for their biting. If they’re biting because they want attention, giving too much comfort can reinforce the biting behaviour.
Your next steps depend on understanding the reason behind the biting:
- Offer teething children rusks or an age-appropriate chew toy.
- If they’re hungry offer up some healthy snacks like fruit and vegetable sticks.
- Remove frustrated children from the situation and distract them with a quiet activity.
- Impulsive children can also be distracted by other activities.
- If they’re seeking your attention, taking your attention away from them can send a powerful message.
- Let them know how the other child is feeling and show your concern as this can teach empathy and show that biting hurts.
Watch the toddler closely to see if the behaviour repeats and intervene quickly to reduce the risk of it happening again. While the child may not know what you are saying yet, they will understand your actions.
Tips on how to stop toddlers from biting
Even if your child is not a biter, you can use these tips to prevent biting behaviour:
- Have a discussion with your child about biting. Use words they can understand. Let them know it is wrong.
- Teach children the meaning of words so they can express their feelings. For anger, you can make a mad face. Picture books that explore emotions can also teach them how to express their feelings.
- When observing, if you think they are going to bite again, remind them to use their words to show their feelings.
- Play pretend with your child. Ask them how they would feel if you wanted their toy and bit them to get it. What should you do instead? Then swap roles so they can show you what they’d do differently. Share the problem and let your child find the solution.
- Use if statements when discussion biting with your child to bring them to a logical answer. You could say, ‘If you bite your friend, then it will hurt them.’ Children want to avoid hurting other children.
- You can also be honest with your child and tell them how their biting makes you feel. You could say something like, ‘I feel sad when you bite people because it hurts them. I want you to do something else instead of biting.’
- Observe your child carefully, and if they continue to bite, jump in quickly to distract them until they learn to stop biting. By observing them closely, you should be able to discover what your child is trying to achieve and help them change their behaviour.
When toddler and baby biting is more than a momentary thing
When biting and other challenging behaviours continue past the age 4 or if it becomes excessive, you should seek professional advice from your GP. Your close observations can help to discover the reason behind it.
If your child’s behaviour is worrying you or if it’s limiting your child’s interaction with other children, it’s time to ask for help.
Never bite your child (even lightly) to show them that it hurts. Your child may think you’re showing them acceptable behaviour encouraging them to bite more. Instead, remain calm and give them a hug.
Hugs can help children to feel a sense of belonging and reduce the desire to bite.
Promote your child’s positive behaviour with Petit Early Learning Journey
At Petit ELJ, our centre teams model appropriate behaviours and language so our children learn from them. When guiding a child’s behaviour, our Educators use several methods including prevention, redirection, problem solving and the use of logical consequences.
If your child has a biting behaviour discuss it with your Centre Director and Educators who will collaborate with you to understand and stop your child from biting. Book a tour to learn more about how we approach biting and other challenging behaviours.