Reader Question – Stopping a Child From Biting:
I love following your blog and newsletter!
I have a problem with my little girl (she’ll be 2 in January) ‘how do you stop children biting?’
Any help welcome!! ~M
When this message arrived in the Creative with Kids inbox I really wanted to respond; biting is one of those behaviors that can be so frustrating and because it causes pain for others it can really set off our alarm bells. Anything that triggers that “danger” feeling is a good bet for triggering our “anger” feeling and habitual angry thoughts – biting children can be real button pushers for us, but biting is simply a behavior telling us about an underlying need. Once we determine that need we can help the child stop biting.
Three Steps to Help a Child Who Bites:
By Lorien VanNess, Early Childhood Contributor for Creative With Kids
Over the years I have helped a lot of kids who bite find other ways to meet their needs. It usually takes some time because there are a number of reasons toddlers and pre-schooler bite, but there is hope; you really can help children stop biting. Here are the three steps, with further explanation and ideas below.
- Think about WHEN they bite
- Look for patterns, determine WHY they bite
- Start to redirect and offer alternative solutions
Young children and toddlers bite for several reasons:
- Curiosity-to or get a reaction
- A need for sensory stimulation
- Teething discomfort
The first step I always take toward helping a child who bites is to spend some time thinking about when the biting is happening. It can be difficult to just look back and find a pattern because often we are only aware of it just as it happens or only after it happens; so, the second step is keeping a pretty watchful eye on the child both to try and prevent the biting and to try and observe when and why they are biting. Once you start to see a pattern emerge you can take the third step and start to redirect or offer alternate solutions.
Solutions to Help Stop Children Who Bite:
- Children who bite out of frustration or anger need a lot of support. This will take time. As much as possible stay near your child during activities that may cause frustration such a playing with other children and help them voice their frustrations as they arise. You might say “you really want to play with that toy, lets ask Johnny if you can play with it when he’s done” and keep providing support until the moment passes. Offer lots of praise but do not mention biting (unless to stop an eminent bite) as this often reminds them to bite.
- Children who bite out of curiosity can learn to move on when biting gets less of a reward. In these cases remain as emotionless as possible try not to make eye contact with the biter, remove the person who has been bitten and comfort them elsewhere if possible. Be quiet and low key in your comfort and try not to mention biting. If you yourself are the target do your best to contain your response and remove yourself without making eye contact (of course only leave the room if your child is in a safe environment or there is another caregiver present). Remember the idea here is to not reward the biting, it’s not about giving your child the “cold shoulder”; you only need to avoid eye contact long enough to comfort the other child or to calm your own nerves. Help the child who bites out of curiosity by teaching them some exciting games such as peek a boo or stack it up and knock it over.
- Children who need the sensory input of biting down or are having teething discomfort are perhaps the easiest to help. Collect a number of safe items to bite such as a rag with knots in it, a Multi Sensory Teether (amazon affiliate link) or toys of different textures. When biting occurs simply state calmly but emphatically “toys are for biting” hand them a teething toy and show them where they are kept so that they can get them out when they want to bite.
Though this process may seem energy intensive and will not work overnight, it has been my experience that it is well worth the time and energy. You may need to make this your priority for a time being, but by addressing the need underneath the behavior you’ll be supporting your child and helping them learn how to communicate and giving them the tools they need to succeed.
More Resources for Helping Kids Who Bite:
- Toddler Biting: Why it Happens and How You Can Stop It – from Happy Hooligans
Five Tips to Help Your Toddler Learn Language and Communicate – from Toddler Approved
Toddler Bites – from Regarding Baby
If you have experience or helpful ideas, please leave your comment for our community! To submit your own reader question you may email Alissa at: firstname.lastname@example.org.