4 Strategies to Cope with A Biting Toddler

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When my first born child was about 20 months old, I received my very first middle-of- the-afternoon phone call from daycare.  Thankfully the provider stated in her voice mail that everything was okay with my son, but there was a biting incident involving his teeth and another child.  It turns out my son bit another child in his daycare class and left a bite mark.  He was sent home that day with an incident report for me and my husband to sign and return.  Yes, my baby came home with his first “I did something I should not have” note.  I was hoping to dodge such a thing for a few more years.  

As a first time parent, I wasn't sure how to address the biting incident with my son.  It wasn't as if I could reason with him.  So my husband and I just hoped it wouldn't happen again and sent him back to daycare the next day with his signed incident report. It turns out, this new behavior continued for the next few months and my son gained the nickname “Pac-man” in his classroom.  He received many more incident reports following that first one, but each time his teachers reassured me that this is very normal.

Studies have shown that close to one half of all toddlers in day care are bitten by another child.

I of course continued to worry that there was something wrong with my son.  After a few months of these biting incidents, I picked up a few of the parenting books I bought when he was first born, in hopes to learn more about toddler biting.  

According to clinical psychologist Stanley Goldstein, biting is developmentally normal in children under the age of 3. He further states that biting is a way for children to show anger, frustration, and a need for control when they do not have the verbal communication to do so. In case you are struggling with the same problem, here are some helpful strategies to cope with toddler biting.

1.  Avoid Labels

In order to effectively deal with the negative biting behavior, avoid calling your child a “biter”.  Even at this young age, children can begin to identify with labels.  These labels will only worsen the biting behavior.

2. Take Quick Action

Address the biting situation quickly but calmly. Avoid responding to the incident in a negative way. If needed, take a deep breath and then in a firm voice address your child. If possible separate him or her from the other child and then try to identify the possible reason for the incident. Was the room too loud? Was your child not receiving enough attention? Was your child feeling frustrated? 

3. Label Emotions

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Toddlers need their feelings labeled, in order to understand what to do with their frustration. When a child bites another child because his or her peer took a toy from them an adult may say “You look mad. It's not okay to bite even if you are mad. It is okay to ask for help.” Jana Martin, PhD, a member of APA’s Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice, recommends using the word “okay” instead of “wrong” or “bad” because it makes the message informative, instead of a punishment.

MORE: Physical Development: Boys vs Girls: Physical Development }

4.  Prevent the Biting

Toddlers can be very unpredictable, so it is often difficult to prevent a situation from occurring. If you do recognize a pattern to your toddler's biting, divert his or her attention to another activity before it occurs. Depending on your toddler's comprehension, talk to him or her about ways to handle the situation instead of biting. If you feel your child is seeking oral stimulation, provide him or her with a child safe teething necklace or teether.

Teaching your child a new behavior takes time and persistence.  Like any other stage, this too shall pass.  My son eventually stopped biting, but I certainly won't forget how frustrated and worried I felt in the midst of all those incident reports.  

Have you experienced your toddler biting other children?  Or has your child been bitten?  How did you deal with the situation?  

What do you think?

4 Strategies to Cope with A Biting Toddler

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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5 comments

  1. Aubrey says:

    My oldest was a ‘pac-man’ as well, and he started because another child bit him. Now my 17mo can’t be left around the dog when he’s cranky because he will bite the dog! Luckily, she has never retaliated (such a mean pit mix lol) but it is a phase that a lot of children will go through.

  2. Emery says:

    I think it’s pretty Normal to bite at the age 20 months

  3. Phammom says:

    Great article and right on! I have worked in child care for 17years and this is all I ever followed and it works, takes time but works.

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