Toddler biting solutions from real parents and teachers. In this article, we address toddler biting behaviour – why toddlers bite, how to handle it, and ways to put an end to toddler biting at home and daycare.
You’ve know the scene – the kids are playing nicely while the parents chat nearby, when all of a sudden, (horrors!), your toddler bites someone. Or maybe it’s your toddler who’s been bitten by another child. Regardless, when one child bites another child, there will be tears, concern and upset parents as well as upset children.
Is it normal for toddlers to bite?
Yes, absolutely, but if your child is a biter, you need to do something about it before someone really gets hurt. If the biting behaviour continues, other parents and kids may start to avoid your child, or at the very least, they’ll be on-guard when he or she is nearby.
But how do you teach toddlers to not bite?
Before we dive into the things you can do to stop the biting behaviour, it helps to understand WHY toddlers bite. There are a number of different reasons to explain the behaviour.
Why do toddlers bite?
- Toddler biting can be an emotional response. Maybe your toddler bites when excited or angry. Perhaps they bite when frustrated or tired or hungry. There are all kinds of emotions that can trigger impulse biting behaviour.
- A young child is often innocently experimenting and testing his body’s capabilities when they bite. Biting is only natural when you have a new set of teeth to try out.
- A child with limited communication skills may bite as a means of expressing himself.
- Biting can be a means of attention-seeking. It certainly gets an instant response from the victim and any near-by adults.
- Biting can be related to Sensory Processing issues. A child with SPD needs the oral stimulation and gratification that biting provides. Learn more about SPD here.
Real Advice from Real Parents and Care Providers
Recently, I posted the following parenting question on my page, and my followers – parents, teachers, grand-parents and caregivers – were more than happy to share their advice and their tried and true solutions for dealing with a toddler who bites.
“I have a one year old biter in my home daycare. He doesn’t do it out of anger. He just goes up and bites for no reason. I’ve tried offering him a teething ring to chew on instead, but it doesn’t help at all. Whenever he bites, I set him down and say ‘Don’t bite. It hurts our friends’. It happens again as soon as I turn my back for two seconds. What should I do!”
The following suggestions are not based on my own personal experience. This is a compilation of solutions from dozens of parents and carers for whom they’ve worked successfully. Every suggestion will not suit every parent or child.
Please take the child’s age and comprehension skills into consideration when using any of these ideas at home or in your classroom.
We earn a commission from sales made via product links in this post.
How to Stop Toddler Biting – Solutions that work!
- Attend to the victim first. The biter should not be the first to receive your attention. The biter will benefit by watching you treat the bitten child with empathy and tenderness.
- Have the biter help the bitten child. He can assist in washing the bite, holding ice on it etc. Point out the bite-marks so he understands the damage his teeth have done.
- Repeat sternly “NO BITING. BITING HURTS.” any time the child bites.
- The biter must sit out for a few minutes to think about his actions while the bitten child returns to play.
- Communicate with meaning: Rather than using the term “time-out”, say “When you bite, you will have to miss out on some play time to think about how you hurt your friend”. To a child, those words hold more meaning than the over-used phrase “time-out”.
- Stop all forms of play-biting at home. Nibbling your child’s fingers and toes sends mixed messages and teaches your child that biting is fun and a way to express affection. It’s only natural that she might try to do the same with her friends or you. Unlike an adult, a toddler cannot distinguish between a bite that’s acceptable and one that’s not.
- Read books that address biting behaviour with your child. “Teeth are Not for Biting” and “No Biting” are two of our favourite books that help to teach kids not to bite.
- Watch a biting toddler closely, and do not leave him or her unattended with other children until the phase passes.
- Have the biting toddler “shadow” the teacher or caregiver until the phase passes. This means the child must stay close to the teacher or caregiver at all times. In a daycare or preschool setting, this means the child will miss some playtime as they will need to accompany the adult while he or she changes diapers, prepares snacks and meals etc.
- Give your toddler lots of undivided attention throughout the day if you feel he or she is biting for attention. A child who doesn’t receive enough will often seek any kind of attention – even the negative kind. Read together, help him do a puzzle, draw together, or ask him to help you with simple tasks like sorting laundry or putting the groceries away. Creating special moments together, and engaging more often with your child can produce quick results.
- Give him a “biting zone” on his own arm. When you catch your toddler biting or about to bite, re-direct him to his own arm.
- Remind him that “teeth are for eating, not for biting people”.
- Provide a pacifier until the phase passes.
- Do some reading yourself. Two suggested books for adults regarding children’s biting behaviour are “No Biting” and “The Biting Solution”.
- Give him a “biting bear”: Tuck a small teddy bear into the top of his shirt, and encourage him to bite it when he feels the urge. Tell him “biting hurts our friends, but it won’t hurt the bear.”
- Listen and sing along to the song “Don’t Don’t Don’t Bite Your Friends!” by Yo Gabba Gabba:
- When a child bites, place your fingers firmly over his or her mouth and say “NO BITING, BITING HURTS”.
- Use positive, affirmative language such as “teeth are for food”, or “keep your teeth to yourself” rather than negative words such as “no biting” and “don’t bite”. When you say “don’t bite”, the child hears “bite”. Think about it: when someone tells you “don’t think of a blue elephant”, what do you think of?
- See a dentist. Often, a toddler’s biting is related to pain, not behaviour.
- Offer crushed ice to bite on and tell the child he or she is allowed to bite on that when the urge hits.
- Offer a chewy toy that you can attach with a tether, to the child’s shirt. Click the image below to see one such product.
More chew toys for kids who bite:
Child Biting Spoon via Shutterstock
- Look for good behaviour, and praise the toddler when you spot it.
- Get down to the child’s level. Kneel on the floor, and make eye contact when speaking to the biter.
- Have the victim explain how he or she feels. This can help teach the biter empathy and compassion.
- Look for patterns in your toddler’s biting. Does she or he tend to bite most often when tired or hungry, when over-excited, or when transitioning from one activity to the next?
- Is the toddler biting out of frustration due to a lack of communication skills? Teaching basic sign language may help. Offer picture books or a collection of simple pictures (food, potty, bed, toys) so he can point out his needs to you.
- Have a go-to phrase to use when the child bites. “I do not bite you, you do not bite me, and WE do not bite others”. Have the child repeat the phrase back to you, and apologize to the child that was bitten.
- Press the child’s arm gently against their teeth, and ask him to describe how it feels. He may not realize just how sharp and and powerful his teeth are.
- Swiftly remove the child from the play area when they bite, and place him/her in a near-by cot or playpen. The biter must stay there until the bitten child stops crying. Make sure there are no toys in the playpen. This is not fun time. It’s time to think about how he/she hurt a friend.
- Make a “biting blanket” – a knotted piece of tee-shirt or a face-cloth that the child can bite on.
- Make a collection of “chewies” – wooden blocks wrapped in fabric or a face-cloth and keep them in a basket where your child has access to them.
- When all else fails, a drop of vinegar or vanilla extract on the tongue can quickly put an end to biting. While vinegar and vanilla taste unpleasant, there are no harmful consequences to tasting either of them. Never use soap or hot sauce regardless of how desperate you are.
Most often, when toddlers bite, there’s a reason for it. Oral sensory issues, the inability to communicate, frustration, fatigue etc. Therefore, the solution usually lies, not in punishing the child, but explaining why biting is not acceptable, and by delivering consistent responses and consequences.
If your child is teething or has sensory issues, it helps to understand that his need to bite isn’t bad. He just to satisfy it in a way that doesn’t harm others.
Never bite a child who bites!
It should go without saying that you should never bite a child back in order to “teach him a lesson”. For starters, it is never acceptable to deliberately inflict pain upon a child – not your own child and not another’s. Secondly, biting a child because you’re frustrated with their behaviour only reinforces that biting out of frustration is ok.
There are always gentler, kinder ways to break habits and correct unwanted behaviour.
Hopefully one of the above suggestions helps to solve any toddler biting issues you’ve had with your child at home or at daycare.
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Jackie is a mom, wife, home daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind Happy Hooligans. She specializes in kids’ crafts and activities, easy recipes, and parenting. She began blogging in 2011, and today, Happy Hooligans inspires more than 2 million parents, caregivers and Early Years Professionals all over the globe.