Biting is a phase that many toddlers go through, and it can be frustrating to parents since they may worry that their child is going to bite a friend, family member, sibling, or even a random child. But there are ways to get your toddler to stop biting. The way you respond makes a massive difference in whether or not your child keeps biting or completely stops.
When you respond early and in the right way you can stop your child from biting very quickly. The way you should be responding to your child’s biting is not a natural response and how many parents normally respond to their child biting doesn’t stop their child from biting but actually encourages it.
So in today’s article, I am going to share with you how you can reduce your child’s biting behavior.
Why Your Toddler Bites and How to Get Them to Stop
Now I could just give you the tips and you can go on your mary way. However, that would not serve you in the slightest. Knowing the tips but not the reasons behind your child’s biting behavior aren’t going to give you the success you are looking for.
So it’s important that we first cover why your toddler bites.
Just because your toddler bites does not mean that you are a bad parent or that your toddler is bad or being mean. I know it can feel embarrassing and maybe you take your toddler’s biting a little personally but the truth of the matter is that biting is actually normal behavior for toddlers.
It is important to keep in mind that toddlers are learning lifelong skills such as emotional- regulation, self-control, empathy, logical reasoning, and the list goes on. These are not skills that are learned overnight it takes continued practice that is why these skills are called life-long skills.
Toddlers do generally find it…
- Challenging to Manage their emotions
- They are Impulsive and reactive
- They don’t know yet how their actions can harm another
- Since toddlers mostly “live” in the emotional center of the brain until they are between the ages of 4-5 they don’t think with logic. (Now I am not saying that they can’t think with logic but they need a parent’s guide)
- Toddlers are still learning words to help communicate what they need and how they are feeling.
Because of this toddlers will communicate through their ACTIONS! Every action your toddler does such as biting, hitting, throwing, kicking, screaming, crying, pushing, etc is all a form of communication.
Developmentally toddlers in this stage of life have their brains function with cause and effect. So if a toddler bites (the cause) and as a parent, you respond quickly, with a loud voice, expressive face, and big movements (effect) the toddler has learned that they can get their parent’s IMMEDIATE response.
That is why biting is an effective action since they get an immediate response to their action of biting from their parent, sibling, or peer. When you think about it, It makes sense why toddlers bite.
If your toddler bites they either get what they are wanting or can avoid something they don’t want such as another child trying to take their toy. A toddler who bites is not trying to be mean or intently hurt another person. They bite because they don’t know how to deal with a difficult moment in their lives.
The thing is that most parents unknowingly encourage their toddler’s biting behavior because they are responding to the toddler’s biting in ways that promote more biting than helping their toddler to stop biting.
Think about how you respond to your toddler biting.
A normal response from an adult is this…
- they Immediately lecture their toddler on why biting is wrong
- Punishment is given to help stop this behavior such as a time out or a spank
- or a parent may bite their toddler back
These three responses that toddler often gets from their parent or adult are very big responses. Even though these responses are natural response they are actually not serving you as a parent which only leads to your child continuing to bite, and parents feeling the need to lecture more, give harsher punishments, or close off because their child bites and they are embarrassed and unsure how to deal with their toddler’s biting.
Now the reason these three reactions increase the chances of your child biting in the future is that…
Your child’s biting got you to stop what you are doing and in a sense create a big scene that your toddler finds very interesting. Since toddlers are curious they want to see if they can get the same reaction as before so they end up biting again. Now even though a toddler during this moment is receiving negative attention from their parent or caregiver they still got attention.
Another reason why toddlers bite is because parents often try to educate their toddlers on why biting is wrong and what they can do instead right after their child has bitten someone. However, this is NOT the time to educate your child this is because your toddler is in a very high emotional state.
When children are in this upset emotional state their brains are closed off from being able to learn a new skill. So it’s best to wait until you and your child have calmed down to do the teaching.
It’s also important to avoid using too many words. Oftentimes, when parents are trying to help their child find different ways to express their emotions without biting parents tend to use lots of words that can confuse a child, and they, will stop listening so the new skill is not being learned, and your toddler resorts back to biting.
Using physical punishment such as spanking or biting your toddler’s back may stop your child from biting when you are around but they can continue to bite because they haven’t learned why they shouldn’t bite or what to do instead of biting. The use of physical punishment also teaches children that using violence is acceptable behavior for solving problems and will use aggression or violence to solve any problems that may arise.
Now as you can see, how you respond to your toddler’s biting can be encouraging it rather than stopping it. So let’s look at how you can respond instead to reduce the biting.
It’s a given that when you see your toddler bite you or someone else you are going to respond pretty quickly.
The trick is to respond quickly but calmly.
Here Are The Steps To Take
Step #1 Go to your child immediately but calmly
Step #2 Get to your toddler’s eye level
Step #3 Using a sharp tone of voice say “No bite, or No biting” Notice here that there is a difference between responding sharply to your child and responding with anger. You want to be sharp not mean, angry, or react with big gestures.
Step 4# Name it to tame it by stating what you saw happen and name the emotion they may be feeling.
Step #5 State the boundary (biting is not okay)
Step #6 Ensure everyone’s safety
There are two very important things to note in this 6 step process. 1st it’s super important to get down to your child’s level because when you are standing over your child this can be intimidating and overwhelming for your child and that can move your child into their fight, flight, or freeze response.
The second important thing to remember is to name their emotion this is because once an emotion has been named it can reduce the emotion they are feeling and helps your toddler start learning the name for the emotions they are feeling in their body.
So here is an example of how this 6-step process may go.
You have done Steps 1-3 so this is starting at step
#4 Name it to tame it
“I can see that you are really angry that Sara took your car,
Step #5 state the boundary
“it’s okay to be angry but it’s not okay to bite.”
“I can see that you are really angry that Sara took your car, “it’s okay to be angry but it’s not okay to bite.”
Step #6 Ensure everyone’s safety.
Once you have stated the boundary next is to move on to safety. If you are the one your toddler is biting. Then you would gently set them on the ground and move away and state “I can’t let you bite me.” Now if your toddler is biting a sibling or a peer you would say “Sara and I are moving over here until you can play safely again.
This works because you are not directly giving attention to your toddler. So instead of having big responses to your toddler’s biting you are moving your attention away from the behavior, you are addressing them with empathy and making a very clear statement to your toddler that their behavior is not going to give them the attention or response they are looking for.
Your toddler learns that when they bite, they will not get the toy, the treat, the turn they want, or the attention from you when they have bitten someone.
Just like I mentioned previously you are not going to teach your child why they shouldn’t bite right after the incident. You are going to talk with your toddler about the incident once they have calmed down. This is a crucial step and should not be missed since this is where real teaching comes into play.
You are going to talk with your toddler about the incident and work together to help them learn new ways to manage that don’t involve them biting. If the step is missed your toddler is likely going to keep biting since it’s a very effective way for them to get what they want and if they don’t know other ways to manage their emotions they are going to keep doing what has worked in the past which is biting.
So this is how this last step may look like
“I could see that you were really angry at Sara this afternoon because she took your car. What are some other ways that you can tell Sara you are still playing with the car? Maybe you could say “I’m still playing with that car, It’s still my turn, you can have a turn when I’m done, or I’m not done.” If Sara doesn’t listen, come and find me and I can come and help.
Just because you have talked about it with your toddler doesn’t mean they are going to get it the first time. These new skills need practice and a great way to practice these new skills is to role-play with your toddler. Get on the floor with your toddler and roll play a scenario you see in your home a lot that results in your toddler biting.
For now, we are going to use the example we have been using in this article. So you will get on the ground with your toddler and tell them that you are going to pretend to be Sara and you are going to take the car from them. You take the car and have your toddler practice saying 1 or 2 of the solutions you both came up with.
You tell your toddler to say to you once you have taken the car “I’m not done it’s still my turn.” Then you go ahead and practice and the more you can role-play different scenarios the better your toddler will get at these new skills and you will see that their biting behavior has decreased or even stopped completely.
When you see your toddler using these new skills throughout their day. Try to notice and praise your toddler since it encourages the behavior when children are praised for something they did well.
You could say something like…
“Cole you did a great job telling Sara that you were not done playing with that toy yet.” Or “Wow cole, great job at taking turns with Sara.”
What To Do Next
It is also common among toddlers to bite when they are throwing a tantrum. To learn how to handle your toddler’s tantrums check out this article right here.
Also, if you would like to learn more about gentle parenting and how to set boundaries that stick, and how to get your children to listen and obey the first time, check out my book called Parenting Without Drama. Click the link in my bio to learn more.