Toddler biting is so frustrating! Recently a friend's fourteen month old boy leaned towards another friend's four month old little girl. "Awww", we all said, "he's going to kiss her." However, when he pulled away, the tiny girl began to howl as if in pain. As we investigated further, we noticed two very distinct teeth marks on the baby's face. The toddler had bitten her!
Obviously, this isn't an uncommon occurrence. Toddlers bite, and they bite for various reasons. The key to stopping this bad, and painful, habit is to figure out why your child is biting, and what you can do about it.
Why Do Toddler's Bite?
Toddlers bite for various reasons. Once you figure out why your toddler is biting, you may be able to stop this behavior.
In the case of my friend's toddler, it appeared that he bit the baby girl simply because he was overcome with emotion for her. A kiss just wasn't enough to show how he felt! He looked truly confused when we all began to fuss over the crying infant. Toddlers' emotions run from one end of the spectrum to the other. They are instantly happy, sad, angry, playful, sleepy, whiney, exhilarated, etc. So, when a toddler feels particularly fond of another child, he may not know exactly how to express his emotion. Thus, he bites her.
Another major reason for toddler biting stems from frustration. Toddlers are typically frustrated about several things throughout the day. They don't always know how to communicate their frustration appropriately. They may cry, kick their legs, shake their heads, and even bite an unsuspecting friend, simply because they are frustrated.
On the Defense
Toddler biting can actually be a defense mechanism. While you will certainly know that a child has been bitten, you may have missed whatever occurred immediately before the biting happened. You may not have noticed that your child was pushed, shoved, or hit. If this incident happened, your child's mode of defense may have been to bite the offending child. If you are dealing with young toddlers, it may be next to impossible to find out the whole story!
Because toddlers may not be very adept at communicating their wants and needs, they bite as a form of communication. They learn that the can get some type of response or attention by resorting to this behavior, even if it is negative attention.
Stopping Your Toddler from Biting
Once you've figured out why your toddler is biting others, you may be able to stop this behavior.
Don't Bite Back!
Many parents of biting toddlers punish their children by biting them back. Does this work? Absolutely not! Instead, it only reemphasizes the behavior that the child is already practicing. Remember, toddlers are little sponges, soaking up words and actions around them. This is how they learn. Parents need to teach by example. If you bite your child back, what are you teaching him?
One of the reasons that toddlers bite is simply for attention. However, if the bitten child receives all of the attention instead of the biting child, what has she learned? Her plan has backfired. When a toddler bites another child, give the bitten child lots of attention first.
Investigate the Circumstances
If your child is biting the same child over and over, or if your child bites another child for the first time, you might need to investigate what else may be happening. If another child is bullying your toddler, she may have bitten that child as a form of self-protection. While of course, you should reprimand your child, try to find out why she bit the other child. If you do discover mitigating circumstances, talk to the parents of the other child. If the problem continues, discuss the situation with your daycare provider, if applicable.
Firm and Consistent Responses
One of the best ways to deal with a biting toddler is to be firm and consistent in your response. As soon as you have discovered what your child has done, tell him in a no-nonsense voice, "No biting!" You will need to remove the child from the situation, and it may be a good idea to put him in time-out or take away a treasured toy for a while. Of course, you should explain why you are doing this to your child.
Love and Patience
Finally, it will take lots of love and patience on your part to help your child overcome this annoying habit. You may find that if you spend a little extra time holding your child, after his punishment, he may respond to this extra time with you. Eventually, your child will grow out of this frustrating behavior problem.