Your toddler is funny, sweet, smart…and you just heard that he bit a classmate at school. Hearing that your toddler is a biter can be mortifying, and concerning, but experts say that biting is a completely normal developmental phase. Even though toddler biting is normal, that doesn’t mean it’s not serious, or that you don’t have to put rules in place—both at home and at school—to nip the behavior in the bud. Here, why toddlers bite, what to do if your toddler bites, and how to stop it from happening.
Why Do Toddlers Bite?
Before you panic, take a deep breath. While biting isn’t behavior you condone, it can be helpful to know that it is completely normal. It’s usually a way for a toddler to communicate. “Toddlers are still developing language skills and do not have much control over their emotional impulses,” says Catricia Tilford, MD, a board certified pediatrician affiliated with Rowedocs Telemedicine Network. “Tantrum behaviors like hitting and biting are usually because a child is upset and frustrated and cannot express how they feel.”
You or your child’s caregiver may see a pattern to their biting. For example, does your child lash out physically when he’s tired or hungry? “Try to get to the root of the tantrums,” Tilford says. “This can help both you and your child avoid meltdowns by planning ahead, such as packing a snack when running an errand.”
Toddler biting generally begins around 12 months. At this age, toddlers are egocentric and may not understand “why” biting is bad, since they don’t realize biting can hurt. What they do know is biting gets attention, gets them what they want, and provides an immediate reaction. Older toddlers may know that biting hurts, but they may still do so because they do not have the words or skills to otherwise get what they want. Depending on the age of your toddler, you may need to redirect your teaching approach. Many toddlers experiment with biting and may only do it a handful of times before learning a better way to communicate. Others may have a harder time. If physical injuries, like breaking the skin occur, or if the aggressive behavior seems to be escalating, Tilford says to consult your pediatrician. They can act as a sounding board and weigh in on the best discipline strategies for your child.
How To Prevent Toddler Biting
The best way to prevent toddler biting is to intervene well before a disagreement becomes physical, Tilford says. For example, if you know your toddler gets extra cranky in the lead-up to naptime, substituting a quiet activity for playground time may help you avoid a biting incident. Here, other tips to prevent toddler biting:
• Redirect your child: When you see your toddler getting frustrated, step in and help them problem solve, suggests Tilford. If she’s fighting over a toy, suggest a new activity. “A great first approach is to shift their focus from what has caused their frustration.”
• Validate their feelings: A toddler bites because she’s feeling angry or frustrated, so try to give her the words to explain how she feels, Tilford says.
• Model Appropriate Behavior: Not that you’re going to bite anyone, but the way you respond to conflict matters. “Remember you are their role model and how you deal with disagreements and stress has a great influence on their behavior,” Tilford says.
What To Do When A Toddler Bites
Sometimes, you may have missed clues that your toddler was about to bite. Other times, your well-behaved toddler at home bites in day care, an experience that can be frustrating for parents…