Have you found your toddler biting other kids or even adults? Here are 7 important steps on how to stop your child from biting others.
My twins’ teacher wanted to talk at preschool pickup, which is usually not a good sign. But I figured, Ok, maybe one of them had a potty accident.
“Today, one of your boys was about to bite his brother on the arm,” she began. “And another child said he’d bitten him during circle time.”
I turned out that my little guy was biting other kids. I’d also noticed it at home, especially when he was excited and tried to bite my hand or arm.
I’d heard and read that biting is common during this age. Kids can’t express their feelings—from frustration to excitement—as well as you and I can. They also feel the urge to relieve the pressure in their growing teeth, and other times, biting is a sign that they need more activity and play time.
Still… it feels different when it’s your child biting other kids. We don’t want to be known as the one with the “biter,” or even think about how your child could do this to someone else.
It’s especially hard when you’re not there to observe, much less stop the behavior. You’re relying on the teachers’ accounts and trusting them to take the appropriate actions.
How to stop your child from biting
That said, there’s still plenty you can do to stop your child from biting others, even if you’re not there. Because as normal as biting may be, you can still need to find ways to help him stop the behavior.
You can use the opportunity to teach him more appropriate ways to communicate. You might have to address physical needs, from teething to doing more physical activities. Plus, you don’t want any more kids getting hurt from his biting.
What are a few ways to stop him from biting other people? Take a look at these important tips to turn things around:
1. Don’t overreact
If you’re like me, you may have found yourself overreacting when you see your child bite. After all, you’re worried that the other child got hurt, or feel embarrassed that it was your child who had bitten someone else. And you know biting isn’t appropriate behavior, so you feel tempted to overemphasize that point.
So, you get stern, lecture, and talk about biting all day long. You make a far bigger deal out of it than you need to, and lose focus of what’s truly important.
But as we all know, kids don’t respond well when we overreact.
Your child might not even know he’s doing something wrong when he bites. Perhaps he thinks the other child had done him an injustice, or he felt too stimulated and excited. Maybe he just needed a good bite to relieve the tension in his mouth, especially if he is teething.
Yes, you want to address the issue so he knows biting is not appropriate, but overreacting is not the way to go. He might feel shocked, confused, and even ashamed about why you’re behaving the way you are.
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2. Avoid labeling your child as a “biter”
Before we even begin to talk to our kids about biting, we need to change one thing first: our mindset.
You see, it’s easy to label your child a “biter,” especially if he’s been biting more often than not, or if your other children never had this issue.
Except words are powerful. Labeling him as a biter only reinforces the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. Imagine an adult trying to break a smoking habit, but constantly hears that she’s a smoker.
Another reason to stop is that biting isn’t a personality trait. The behavior doesn’t define who he is as a person, much less his self-worth. Labeling can ingrain—whether within you or your child—that biting is inherent, instead of what it truly is: a behavior he can change.
3. Find your child’s triggers
Every child has his reasons why he bit another person.
For instance, after speaking more with my son’s teacher, it turned out that he tended to bite during circle time. We realized that he felt frustrated at the lack of physical space around him, or that he didn’t like other kids cramping his area.
A quick fix of making sure he has plenty of space was enough to prevent many biting issues.
What are your child’s triggers? Observe and take note of the last few times he bit others, both with you and with others. When did he typically bite? How was he feeling? Was he overwhelmed, stimulated, or excited? Could he have been frustrated with another child?
You and your child’s teacher can brainstorm reasons he bites to prevent it in the future. The more you can pinpoint his triggers, the more you can prevent them from happening.
4. Be firm (yet kind)
Once you’ve kept your responses collected and calm, it’s time to explain why we don’t bite.
First, be firm to show your child that biting is serious. While you don’t want to be too harsh, you want to make sure he understands the gravity of biting. Explain the reason in a matter-of-fact way to avoid your anger from flaring.
At the same time, balance your approach with kindness and compassion so he feels heard and understood. Yes, you’re firm on your stance about biting, but he should always know that you love him regardless.
It’s difficult, I know. We’re usually mortified when our kids bite and tend to overcompensate by being too harsh. But they need us to be a calm source of love and support, especially when they may not always understand their behavior.
5. Encourage your child to use words and gestures
Biting often happens because kids don’t have a sophisticated way to communicate their feelings. They feel upset when others take their toys, or they’re overcome with emotion when they see their loved ones. My son couldn’t express his frustration at having his space encroached.
And so, they bite.
You’ve already explained that biting hurts and isn’t an appropriate way to behave. Now it’s time to encourage your child to use words instead of biting.
One way is to label emotions of all kinds, from happy and excited to sad and anxious. The more you label the emotions she experiences, the more she’ll begin to use those same words to express how she feels.
Then, when she does bite, explain what she can say: “I see you’re so excited to see me, but we don’t bite. You can put your arms around my neck instead.” Or “You didn’t like it when she took your toy, but biting hurts. Next time, you can say, ‘I’m not done’.”
She might be biting because she can’t articulate these feelings just yet, so it’s important to describe the words she wishes she could say. It’s up to you to “guess” what she feels so she can begin to use those words and gestures herself.
6. Offer a teething toy
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If you notice your child bites because of an oral sensation he needs to soothe, consider giving him a teething toy.
The biting can stem from the need to soothe his tender teeth and gums. Teething toys can ease the discomfort and prevent him from biting others. That way, rather than biting others, he can chew on these toys instead.
Here are a few suggestions:
She’ll find ways to better cope instead of biting—and you just might avoid another dreaded conversation with the teacher.
7. Read books about biting
The same is true with biting.
Reading about other characters going through the same issues can help cement the idea that we don’t bite. Your child will see common reasons why kids bite, and ways to handle those situations. Take a look at these fantastic books to read together:
After applying these tips, I’m happy to report that my little guy did stop biting. And that’s the reassuring thought we need to remember when our kids go through stages like these: It will pass. What seems like a dire circumstance they’ll forever be stuck in will likely pass given a few days or weeks.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to help it along. For starters, keep your emotions calm and collected and let your child know that biting is inappropriate. Avoid calling him a “biter,” and instead find the triggers that set him off.
Be firm yet kind in reinforcing your rules and expectations. Show him more appropriate ways to handle the triggers that make him bite, like using words and teething toys. And finally, read children’s books about biting to further drill the idea that he has other options besides biting.
With these tips, you too can move past the biting stage—and avoid yet another meeting with his teacher.
Get more tips:
- The Difference between Distraction and Redirection
- How to Teach Conflict Resolution for Children
- How to Teach Toddlers to Share
- Why You Should Always Intervene when Adults Overwhelm Your Child
- 9 Playground Rules You and Your Kids Should Remember
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