Toddlers can be so much fun. Spontaneous hugs, easy laughter and endless energy are some of the best parts of this stage in your child’s development. In addition to all of the sweet ways that your toddler already connects with you, he or she may exhibit common baby behavior, such as biting. If this occurs, do not worry; simply use these moments as opportunities to teach boundaries and effective communication to your little one. Explain to your child how to share his or her feelings, and to leave the biting for food.
Why do children bite?
Biting is a common behavior in young children and is typically harmless. The American Psychological Association reports that between one-third and one-half of toddlers in day care will experience biting or being bitten. It is most common among toddlers between 13 and 30 months old, but normally subsides soon after the third birthday.
To help prevent biting, parents should try to identify the source, or sources, of the issue:
- Children sometimes use biting as a means of communication. Toddlers are just beginning to develop a vocabulary and may not always know the right words or gestures to get their point across.
- Children may bite to communicate their emotions ‒ particularly if the child feels frustrated, overwhelmed or unnoticed.
- Biting can be a regular occurrence with children who continue to experience the world through oral examination.
- Toddlers sometimes bite because they do not fully comprehend the consequences of the action or do not have a fully-developed sense of self-control.
- Another common cause for biting is teething pain.
What should I do if my child is biting?
- If your child bites another child or an adult, stay composed; but be firm. Kneel down so that you are at your child’s level. Talk in a clear, calm voice and say, “No biting. Biting hurts.”
- Immediately turn your attention to the individual who has been bitten. Comfort the person and comment on how it feels, so that your child hears the same words that you use when he or she is hurting. This not only explains cause and effect but also teaches empathy. With your attention focused on the person who was bitten instead of on your child, your child will recognize that biting is not a good way to get attention.
- Talk to your child about alternative ways to communicate. If you can, identify the emotional trigger for the incident. Explain that using words is a better way to express being hurt or frustrated or tired (or whatever the case may be). Remind your child that he or she can always come to you for help.
- If your child is away from home and biting while at day care, talk with the teacher and create a plan to address the cause of this reaction from your child. Positive reinforcement and consistent consequences are important to ending biting behavior.
Remember to be patient as you teach your child about how to express himself or herself. Read books about biting, and offer hands-on demonstrations about how teeth are meant to be used, such as for eating an apple or chewing a raisin. If your child’s biting behavior continues, talk with your pediatrician or a trained professional and ask for more information. Eventually, your bubbly toddler will learn to express emotions in a more productive way ‒ and leave the biting to food.