Biting amongst little ones is a distressing but common problem for parents.
But why do toddlers bite and how can you prevent it?
Why toddlers bite.
I think it’s really helpful to understand why your toddler may start biting before you start trying to change their behaviour. One of the reasons is because toddlers have limited developed language at this age.
But some of the probable and common reasons that toddlers bite are:
Cutting teeth hurts and chewing on something usually relieves that nagging aching pain and since toddlers are egocentric and can’t put themselves in the place of others they don’t understand that they are hurting another child or you yet. It’s a natural stage in their development that you need to understand.
This explains the look of puzzlement, lack of concern and disconnection that you often see on their faces when you shout at them in horror and shock. They don’t understand about empathy or another person’s pain yet.
Anyone who has spent any time with babies and toddlers knows that they put everything in their mouths so this also includes other children and adults sometimes!
Biting is sometimes a way of learning about another child usually for babies, but sometimes for toddlers too, and is not a sign of malice.
Cause and Effect.
Around about 9-months-old, depending on the maturity of your little one, babies and toddlers begin to make the connection that their actions have consequences on the people around them. They quickly learn “If I bite my brother Joshua, I hear a high pitched scream from Mum and get a lot of attention. I wonder if she will keep coming over if I do it again.”
They are learning about getting your attention and any attention is better than being ignored. So one quick strategy is to pay far more attention to the person who has been bitten and to calmly but swiftly remove them from the scene of the crime and say ‘No biting!’ and ignore them for a few minutes.
Don’t try and stop your little one by smacking them or biting them back! They will just copy that behaviour next as you are their primary role model.
Biting can sometimes be a way of gaining attention so be careful not to give more attention to the biter than the victim. Remember a big telling off still means your child is in the spotlight – even if they are getting into trouble.
Toddlers are learning to have an impact on their world and biting definitely has an impact.
Sometimes your little one can learn new negative behaviours, like biting, through playing with other toddlers and they can start suddenly biting when they go to a play group or nursery.
Biting is an extremely contagious behaviour because modelling or copying the actions of others is an important and powerful way for your toddler to learn. So just relax if this happens but be very clear on where you stand with regards biting, be specific and clear in how you want to handle it, and tell your little one in a voice that means business what you expect from them so they can learn from the experience quickly so you can all move on positively.
A common example of when a toddler bites is over a struggle with a toy. Toddlers have very limited language skills so biting is a quick, and very effective way, to register a complaint and to assert their authority over ownership with another child!
Frustration, Tiredness or Stress.
Some toddlers bite when they are tired or hungry. Sometimes toddlers bite when they feel rushed or when one of you is working away from home or is late home and they have missed you. It’s a combination of frustration, tiredness and stress. So just be on the look out for a change in circumstances and be understanding and compassionate for the underlying reason but not the behaviour!
Anxiety and Insecurity
Toddlers often resort to aggressive behaviour when they feel insecure. Pick up your little one and cuddle them when visitors arrive or they are going into new situations. While they are getting used to new experiences, let them stay close to you. Don’t vanish into the kitchen straight away chatting to friends for a coffee but show them how to play with new children by joining in yourself for the first ten minutes or so to reassure them.
What do I do when toddlers bite?
While it is important to know that biting is a common age related behaviour for toddlers, it’s just as important to accept that biting is not an acceptable behaviour.
You must help your toddler to control their urge to bite other children by responding quickly and firmly.
“Stop” is a better word that “No” as it captures your toddler’s immediate attention and describes the action you want to stop. It’s also a positive word as opposed to a negative one.
Then take immediate action because discipline for toddlers is most effective when it occurs immediately after their unacceptable behaviour. Where possible, the biting child should usually be dealt with first and should be removed from the situation and given some “Time out” and a chance to cool down.
Then you can look at the possible reasons for the biting and make judgements about how to help your child learn from the experience. If they are hungry, tired or stressed then it’s up to you to look at new ways to prevent those flash points but if it is over a toy show them better ways to share and express themselves.
How can I prevent toddlers from biting?
But it’s important to make it clear to your little one that biting is never acceptable. Save a special tone of voice just for biting so your child recognises it and is far more likely to listen to you!
How long is this going to last?
Most toddlers grow out of this phase when their language develops and they can express themselves more easily.
And most children tend to outgrow the stroppy disobedient phase round about their 40th birthday!
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