Although biting among toddlers is a common developmental behavior, it can be upsetting for both adults and children. Toddlers may bite out of anger, frustration or a need for control and attention. Instead of being able to say, “I am sad,” or “I wanted that toy,” they bite as a means of communicating.
Children often outgrow this behavior by age 3, when they gain more self-control and language skills. What should you do until then? Below are some ways to deal with biting behaviors in the moment, as well as tips for preventing biting in the future.
1. Work with your child to brainstorm an apology
After a biting incident, help your child begin to understand cause and effect by brainstorming an apology with him. Say, “You bit Sophia and that was not very nice. She’s sad. What could we do to make her feel better?” He might want to apologize by hugging her, giving her a Band-Aid or by drawing her a picture. Any sincere gesture is appropriate.
2. Role play positive behaviors
Role playing is a great way for children to communicate their experiences in a lighthearted, nonthreatening manner. Using stuffed animals, create scenarios that frequently upset your child, such as when a friend takes his toys. Say, “Mr. Bear took your toy. How does that make you feel?” Encourage him to say, “No. That is not nice,” or “No, I don’t like that.” You can also remind your child that adults are there to help.
3. Integrate calming activities into your child’s routine
To relieve general tension or stress, consider adding kid-friendly relaxation aids, such as yoga, bubbles, or play dough into your child’s routine.
4. Pay attention to triggering events
Be on the lookout for circumstances that typically trigger biting, and adjust activities as needed. For example, if you notice that your child bites others when he’s tired, plan play dates after nap time and be prepared to intervene if he shows signs of impatience. If he bites when he’s bored, rotate toys or move play time to a new environment.
5. Read books about biting
If biting becomes frequent, books are a great way to introduce concepts of empathy, friendship and self-control. With your child, read Teeth are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick, No Biting by Karen Katz and No More Biting for Billy Goat! by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams. Afterward, discuss how the characters dealt with their feelings in a positive way.
Remember, the biting phase won’t last forever. Over time, your child will stop biting and use more appropriate ways to express his feelings. Be patient and calm with him, and praise any positive behaviors that you notice.