I was recently at a playground and witnessed a biting incident between two toddlers. Like all biting incidents, it happened very quickly and no one was the wiser until the bitee let out a shriek, so I’m not sure what provoked the bite. As I often do when I’m around misbehaving teeny ones, I was briefly thankful that I’m not in that phase of mothering any longer. While neither of my kids were habitual biters, my son did bite my daughter a time or two when they were very little. (I don’t remember my daughter ever biting back, but she was a pincher, so I’m sure she got him back at some point!)
If you have a biting toddler, it can be very frustrating, but nothing is wrong with you or your child; it’s just a phase that many children go through. While waiting for it to pass, though, here are some ways to cope (and to help little victims cope as well!) when a toddler bites:
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cliche, yes, but also true. Kids tend to bite when they’re hungry, tired, getting sick or cranky. While you can’t always predict when kids will get crabby and take a chomp out of an unwitting playmate, you can reduce the occurrences by scheduling playdates around your child’s regular naps and mealtimes. If he’s out of sorts due to a cold, try not to invite a little friend over until he’s over the illness (or over the biting stage). Of course, when your child is biting you, avoiding him when he’s tired, sick or hungry isn’t going to work. In that case, you’ll need to just watch carefully for signs that he’s going to bite, and try to redirect him quickly if you think that’s the case!
- Once she’s old enough, teach her to use her words. Biting often is a toddler’s way of saying, “I’m frustrated!” Show her that she can say, “no!” or “I’m mad!” if she’s feeling that way. Respect her feelings. That doesn’t mean that you need to give her whatever she wants, but you could say, “I know that you’re mad,” or “I know you wish you could have the doll that Rachel is playing with. Let’s find another doll, and maybe you could trade in a few minutes.” She might not understand everything that you’re saying, but she will know that her feelings are being validated, and that might make her less likely to bite.
- React calmly when the inevitable occurs. Tell your child, “No, we don’t bite,” without yelling, and focus your attention on the victim. Remove your child from the situation as soon as possible. Later on, you can say, “It really hurt Tommy when you bit him. Biting hurts. We do not bite our friends.” By not giving him positive or negative attention at the time of the biting, he’ll lose interest if he’s been biting as an attention-getting strategy (sometimes kids will settle for negative attention if they don’t feel like they’re getting the positive attention that they want at any given moment).
- Don’t bite your child back. I think all parents of a biting child hear this advice at least once. It’s not a good idea, and it does not set a good example of appropriate conflict resolution for your child.
Remember, this too shall pass. Once your child starts preschool, peer pressure will often nip any residual biting in the bud; kids will avoid a biter, and your child should catch on quickly that biting is not a way to make (or keep) friends. If biting persists past the age of four or so, check with your child’s pediatrician to make sure that something else isn’t going on.
Have you dealt with biting? Do you have any good tips to share for when a toddler bites?