Toddlers do so many adorable things: give you unexpected hugs, squeal with laughter and cuddle up when tired.
But, as any parent can tell you, they also do some not-so-adorable things, they kick, scream…and bite.
Biting is quite common in children aged 12-36 months (after age 2 biting can become deliberate) but should still be addressed early on to curb the behaviour.
Why children bite
Babies and toddlers bite for a variety of reasons including:
Relieving pain from teething.
Exploring cause and effect – wanting to see what happens when they bite.
Communicating needs like hunger or tiredness.
Communicating feelings like anger, frustration, fear or confusion.
But as communication skills develop and the little one learns how to express themselves through words and gestures, biting tends to lessen.
What should I do if my little one bites someone?
Stay calm but be firm
Becoming angry, upset or shaming will confuse and potentially scare your little one so it’s important that you stay calm throughout.
Be firm and use simple, easy to understand words like ‘no biting’ or ‘biting hurts’. Make it clear that biting is wrong but avoid lengthy explanations until your child is old enough to understand.
Comfort the victim
You then want to quickly divert your attention to the victim. This will enforce the idea that biting is not the right way to get your attention and will prevent this from becoming a habit.
Comfort the biter if needed
If your little one is upset about biting another person, it’s okay to comfort them as well. Teach them to comfort a friend after a bite.
But be sure to not divert the attention away from the victim to avoid making biting a habit.
Suggest alternatives to biting this can be via communication or expressive arts & crafts.
You can help your child learn the appropriate words and/or gestures to use when they want to express emotion. Words like ‘no thank you, I don’t like’, ‘stop’ and ‘that, we don’t do that’ ‘ouch that hurts’ can be useful.
If emotions or energy levels are high or if boredom is settling in, help redirect your little one’s attention to a positive activity. This could include dancing, colouring or playing a game.
Experts suggest that discipline isn’t an effective way to curve biting behaviours, it’s more important to help your little one understand why biting isn’t okay and that it hurts others.
NEVER bite a child who has bitten – this just reinforces that their behaviour is acceptable. Remember, you’re their role model and they will copy your behaviours.
Tips for creating a bite-free environment
Whether you feel like you’ve made progress with your little one’s behaviour or if it continues to be a work-in-progress, it is important to create a bite-free environment everywhere you go.
Here are some tips:
Rather than giving your little one attention when they do bite, focus on praising good behaviours.
Positive statements like ‘I like how you use your words’ or ‘I like how you are playing gently’ will show them that good behaviours will lead to positive attention and so will focus their efforts on these instead of biting.
Consistency is key
Be sure to keep reinforcements and reactions the same in all biting instances, otherwise, your little one might get confused, which can lead to more biting.
Toddlers can bite when they are under stress from being in a new or unexpected place or situation. Preparing your little one beforehand will help them feel more at ease.
This can be as simple as talking them through where they’ll be going and what they can expect or doing a trial run ahead of time (for instance, if starting a new nursery settling-in sessions will help your child feel more at ease when the time comes to start).
As your little one’s communication skills develop, help them learn better ways to express negative emotions, for example using their words over actions.
You can also help them express themselves in other ways such as through drawing, dancing and more.
What to do if you’re concerned
If your child bites someone it’s only natural to be concerned, but don’t worry it is quite normal in babies in toddlers. This usually stops around age 2 but can continue to age 4 at the latest.
If it does continue or you need a little extra support, speak to your nursery manager or little one’s health professional. They will be able to discuss the behaviour, identifying the causes and ways to effectively curve it.
Books to share with your little one
Children’s books are great resources, helping your little one better understand concepts and ideas with visual support. Here are some great examples to help them understand why biting is bad.
You may also like our all you need to know guide to tantrums - click here to check it out.