Those of us who have worked with toddlers know that they bite. Some of them seem to follow the other children just waiting for an opportunity to lock on. But they really aren’t. The first step in preventing biting is to understand it. Why do toddlers bite?
One reason, they don’t have the words to say, “leave me alone” or “I want that toy”. In frustration they use their mouth in another way. Very young children really don’t like other children in their space. So they bite. Sometimes they bite because they have a need for something in their mouth – some oral stimulation. Young children often explore their world with their mouths.
Trying to determine the cause of the behavior can help to predict when it might happen, but the most important thing to do is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. So how do you do that?
Let me tell you what not to do. Don’t shame the child or yell at them. Keep in mind there is a reason for the behavior and the child is not trying to simply be mean. Keeping that in mind when you respond helps keep your own reaction in check so that you can respond appropriately.
First, respond (as opposed to react) to the action by saying, “No Biting!” in a firm, but non-threatening tone. Then turn your attention to the child that was bitten. Is there injury? Do they need ice? Comfort the child until they are ready to go back into the group. If there is a very short time between the initial bite and comforting of the bitee, you can give the biter words. “Tell Bobby you don’t like to be touched”.
If at all possible, try to prevent the bite in the first place. We are often able to determine who is prone to biting. Pay close attention to this child and respond as soon as it looks like a bite could happen. Redirect the child to the books or the block area. Make soothing noises to the child to help ease any anxiety or frustration. Start blowing bubbles and let the child blow too. This can help with the problem if it’s an oral need. Give the child words to help express her feelings. “Ava you look really mad. Is Max trying to take your toy? Tell Max, no”! And make sure Max doesn’t get the toy.
When they do respond appropriately, notice! “Yeah Ava! You shared your toy with Max. Here is a new toy for you to have”. Never give a child false praise, but always notice when an undesirable behavior is replaced with a more appropriate response.
Biting is never an easy situation and there is no magic answer. Just make sure you know your children well and you are ready to respond quickly. And above all, guide and direct rather using negative reactions. They will get it. Kids are usually pretty smart!