Toddler biting solutions from real parents and teachers: Why kids bite, how to handle it, and ways to put an end to biting behaviour 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 child bites someone. Or maybe it’s your child who’s received a gnash from a sharp little set of chompers.
Even if your own child has never given or received a bite, you’ve probably witnessed a toddler sink his teeth into someone. Ouch! Not nice!
You can’t ignore this behaviour. If your toddler is a biter, you need to do something about it. If you don’t, someone’s going to get hurt. Literally. If your child’s biting behaviour continues, other parents and kids may begin avoiding your child. Or at the very least, they’ll be on-guard when he’s around.
Child Biting Finger via Shutterstock
Let’s face it: biting HURTS. It hurts a lot. For a child, being bitten is upsetting. Painful. Even traumatic.
For the parents and carers involved, repeated biting is frustrating. Exasperating. You wonder WHY one child would bite another, HOW you should react, and WHAT you can do to prevent it the child from biting again.
Why do toddlers bite?
First, it helps to understand that toddler biting can stem from a number of causes. Anger, excitement, frustration and fatigue are all common ones.
A young child is often simply experimenting and testing his body’s capabilities. “Wow, look what I can DO with these teeth of mine.” Biting something is only natural when you have a new set of teeth to try out.
A child with limited communication skills may bite out of frustration or as a means of expressing himself. Sometimes biting is a means of attention-seeking. It certainly gets an instant response from the victim and any near-by adults.
Frequent biting in toddlers and older children can often be related to Sensory Processing issues. A child with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) often needs the oral stimulation and gratification that biting provides. You can find more information about SPD and decoding kids behaviours over at Lemon Lime Adventures.
Whatever the reason for the biting, if you have a biter, or know a biter, you’ve likely prayed that the stage passes quickly, and wondered what you can do about it until it does.
I recently posed the following question on my Facebook page after a reader asked for advice regarding a biting toddler in her daycare:
“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!”
As always, my followers came out in droves. Parents, teachers, grand-parents and caregivers were more than happy to share their advice and their tried and true solutions for dealing with a child who bites.
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 your child’s age and comprehension skills into consideration when moderating or using any of these ideas at home or in your classroom.
Baby Biting Arm via Shutterstock
For your convenience, this post contains affiliate links.
Parent-Tested Solutions to Put and End to Toddler Biting:
- Attend to the victim first. The biter should not be the first to receive your attention. Deal with him after tending to the injured child. The biter will benefit by watching you treat the bitten child with empathy and tenderness.
- Have the biter help tend to bitten child: he can assist in washing the bite, holding ice on it etc. Point out the bite-marks so he might understand the damage his teeth have done.
- Repeat sternly “NO BITING, BITING HURTS, NO BITING” 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.
- 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 “time-out”.
- Stop all forms of play-biting at home. Nibbling your child’s fingers and toes sends mixed messages. Your child sees your nibbles as a fun way to express affection. It’s only natural that she might try to do the same with you or a little friend. A toddler cannot distinguish between a bite that’s acceptable and one that’s not.
- Read the books “Teeth are Not for Biting” and “No Biting”. You can look for them at the library or buy them buy clicking on the following images.
- Watch a biting child closely when playing with others, and don’t leave him unattended with other children until the phase passes.
- In a daycare or preschool setting, have the biting child stay with and “shadow” the teacher until the phase passes. This will mean missed playtime with the others while the teacher prepares snacks, lunch, changes diapers etc.
- If biting only happens when your back is turned or when you’re out of the room, it’s quite likely deliberate and being done for attention or a reaction.
- If you feel your toddler is biting for attention, give him ample undivided attention throughout the day. Kids LOVE attention. A child who doesn’t receive enough will often seek any kind of attention – even the negative kind. Read a book together, help him do a puzzle, draw together, or even ask him to help you with simple tasks like sorting laundry or putting the groceries away. None of these take a lot of time, but a few extra “special” moments together, when you are fully engaged with your child can quickly make a positive difference.
- 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 frequently that “teeth are for eating, not for biting people”.
- Provide a pacifier until the phase passes.
- Do some reading yourself. Two suggested books are “No Biting” and “The Biting Solution”. Click on the following images to purchase through Amazon.com.
- Tuck a “biting bear” (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 Bight 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”.
- Try using 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 times 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.
Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right chewy toy.
Perhaps one of the following: (links are clickable)
Child Biting Spoon via Shutterstock
- Look for good behaviour and provide lots of praise and encouragement when you spot it.
- Get down to their level – kneel on the floor, and make eye contact with the biting toddler. Have the bitten child explain how he feels. This can help teach the biter empathy and compassion.
- Look for patterns in the biting habit. Does it occur at certain times? When he or she is tired or hungry, or when you’re transitioning from one activity to the next?
- Is the toddler biting due out of frustration due to a lack of communication skills? Teaching simple 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.
- Take the child’s arm and gently press it against their teeth, and ask him to describe how it feels. He may not realize just how sharp and and powerful his teeth are.
- When a bite occurs, swiftly remove the biter from the play area. Have a safe place, a cot or playpen set up near by. 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 or 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 or two 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 your situation might seem.
Two Babies via Shutterstock
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 being consistent with your response and the consequences.
If your child is teething or has sensory issues, it helps to understand that his need to bite isn’t wrong or bad. He just to satisfy it in a way that doesn’t harm others.
It should go without saying that you should never bite a child back in order to “teach him a lesson”. It is never acceptable to deliberately inflict pain upon a child. Not your own child and not another’s. There are always gentler, kinder ways to break habits and correct unwanted behaviour.
I hope that somewhere among the suggestions above, you’ll find one that works for you.
What to do if your child’s biting is Oral Sensory related?
If you think your child’s biting is related to Sensory Processing Disorder, speak to your doctor. I would also encourage you to check out Project Sensory and the new Sensory Fix Toolkit. Dayna, a former teacher turned sensory parent, has created Project Sensory as a way to raise awareness of sensory needs and get basic sensory tools to KIDS OF ALL AGES.
Sensory Fix Toolkit is a backpack brimming with over 15 calming tools to help kids manage their sensory needs and regulate anxiety. The kit comes with a cool chart telling you which behaviors each tool can help with, making it easy to understand!
The purchase of a Sensory Fix Toolkit includes a one year membership to Project Sensory’s Printables Club where you’ll find other helpful printable charts and tools and get new printables each month, too. The total value for the kit is over $200.00. Dayna has managed to get the price down to a reasonable amount AND give a 35% discount to anyone who preorders NOW before December 1, 2014. Even better: for every 20 Sensory Fix Toolkits sold, Project Sensory will donate a kit to a classroom in need! If you are a teacher interested in finding out more, visit the Teacher Page to Apply for Classroom Sensory Fix.
Use the code “hooligans” to get a 10% discount and free gift with every order.
Be sure to follow the #ProjectSensory and #SensoryFix hashtags on social media and check the Decoding Everday Kid Behaviours homepage daily for more kid behaviour solutions!
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