How To Discourage Biting In Toddlers

Biting is a common yet disturbing behavior in toddlers. A calm yet firm approach is best when dealing with the biter.

When you take your toddler to daycare or to play dates, are you afraid that, when you return, you will find bite marks on other children and hear yet another story about your toddler's biting behavior? Biting can develop suddenly from about the age of one year or older and can take the form of a phase that lasts only a few months or a habit that lasts longer. Although biting is disturbing to parents, it is a normal behavior for a young child with limited ability to express himself or herself. However, the child should be made aware that the behavior is wrong, and there are many steps that can be taken to communicate this message and to prevent future biting.

Why do toddlers bite? It is not because the child is malicious or wants to cause pain. While they are teething, children put everything in their mouths, and they might treat another child's hand as if it were a teething ring. Since the sucking reflex develops at birth, the mouth is a very important mechanism through which children explore their world. If something interests them, they often put it in their mouths. Children at this age also have limited means of communication, and they bite to register a complaint that they are tired, hungry or frustrated. Toddlers are also fascinated by cause and effect relationships. They might think to themselves: "When I bite, Mommy runs over and speaks in a loud voice and pays a lot of attention to me. I'll bite and see if she does it again." Biting can also be the result of stress or an overly stimulating environment.

The first thing to do when a child bites is to respond firmly and quickly to the behavior. Children at this age need to be taught that a behavior is wrong the moment they do it, since they are unable to discuss things later on. The response should be firm yet calm. Anger or nervousness might make the child curious if he or she will elicit the same interesting reaction again, so focus on effective discipline rather than your own upset feelings. "Stop Biting" communicates more immediately than "No Biting" because "Stop" is an actual command. Make this intervention and rebuke as brief as possible to avoid giving undue attention to the biter which will only encourage future biting. Focus instead on the victim of the bite to show the child that people tend to avoid biters. If the children are able to speak, encourage the victim also to tell the biter that the biting hurts, but again, avoid prolonged dramatic scenes which will interest the biter.

Removing the child temporarily from the play group or time-out may be an option for older biters. Younger biters simply need to learn that the behavior will not be tolerated.

Never punish a child for biting by hitting or biting back. It is contrary to logic to punish violence with violence, and a child will learn that biting is an acceptable retaliation if the parent bites.

If your child has a biting habit, it is important to become a biting detective. When does he or she bite? Does it occur at a particular time of day? Is he or she hungry when the biting occurs? Does he or she bite girls more often than boys or vice versa? Is there behavior, such as grabbing or taking away toys that provokes your child's biting? Once you've discovered a biting pattern, prevent it before it happens. This means shadowing a child who is in potential biting situations and intervening, if necessary. Before the toddler bites, hold the toddler back and teach him to say, for instance "Mine" instead of biting a child who took his toy away. Give your child a teething ring or something else to bite on. If your child bites in certain situations, inform the daycare, and daycare workers should tell the parent about biting patterns they observe. Choose daycare centers that have a low enrollment to provide your child with ample attention he or she needs to deal with this problem.

Finally, positive reinforcement works. If your child is in a potential biting situation and decides not to bite, pick her up and cuddle her and say "Good girl!" Overcoming a challenge like biting in toddlers involves recognizing small victories and encouraging further success.

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