Toddlers do the most adorable things: Give unexpected hugs, squeal with laughter, and cuddle up to you when they're tired.
But as any parent of a toddler will tell you, they also do some not-so-adorable things, like kick, scream ... or bite.
Biting is quite common in kids this age, but that's little
consolation if your toddler bites. After all, no one wants their child
to be considered the menace of the play group. And worse yet, kids who
are labeled "biters" often get excluded from childcare centers - a
challenge that no working parent wants to face.
You may think biting is just another phase you'll have to live
through, but that's not necessarily the case. There are ways to get to
the bottom of your toddler's biting habit. Here's how to help curb this
type of behavior.
Why Toddlers Bite
Believe it or not, biting is a normal part of early childhood
development. Babies and toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, such as
teething or exploring a new toy or object with their mouth ("mouthing").
As they begin to understand cause-and-effect, they also might bite a
person to see if they can get a reaction.
Biting also can be a way for toddlers to get attention or express how
they're feeling. Frustration, anger, and fear are strong emotions and
toddlers lack the language skills to deal with them. So if they can't
find the words they need quickly enough or can't articulate how they're
feeling, they may resort to biting as a way of saying, "Pay attention to
me!" or "I don't like that!"
Biting is slightly more common in boys and tends to occur most often
between the first and second birthday. As language skills develop, so do
coping skills and biting tends to lessen.
How to Curb Biting
With biting, it's important to address the behavior immediately after
it happens. The next time your child bites another child, separate the
kids involved and try these steps:
- Step 1: Comfort the victim first. Direct your
attention to the person who has been bitten, especially if it's another
child. Addressing the wrong-doer first may reinforce this negative
behavior if he or she bites to get attention. If there is an injury,
clean the area with soap and water and apply ice.
- Step 2: Be calm and firm. Address
your child with a firm, "no biting!" or "biting hurts!" Keep it simple
and easy for a toddler to understand. Make it clear that biting is
wrong, but avoid lengthy explanations until your child is old enough to
understand. Remaining as calm as possible will help to resolve the
situation more quickly.
- Step 3: Comfort the biter, if need be.
Oftentimes, toddlers may not realize that biting hurts. It's OK to
comfort a child who may be feeling upset about hurting a friend.
- Step 4: Offer alternatives. When things have calmed
down, suggest alternatives to biting, like using the words "no,"
"stop," and "that's mine" when wanting to communicate with others.
- Step 5: Redirect. Distraction works wonders with
kids this age. If emotions and energy levels are running high or if
boredom has set in, help redirect a little one's attention to a more
positive activity, like dancing to music, coloring, or playing a game.
Punishment is usually not necessary at this age, since biting is
normal and most kids don't realize that their actions can cause harm to
If, on the other hand, you've tried the steps above and the behavior
doesn't stop, timeouts may be effective. Older toddlers (2-3) may be
taken to a designated timeout area - a kitchen chair or bottom stair -
for a minute or two to calm down.
As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for
timeouts. Shorter timeouts can be effective, but longer ones have no
added benefit and can sometimes undermine your efforts if your little
one gets up (and refuses to return) before you signal that the timeout