Tips for Biting Toddlers
Fall is here with cooler days, pumpkin flavors and some spooky fun just around the corner. While you can count on princesses and superheroes to be out in full force, if your family is like mine, you may have already experienced a little Dracula running amuck. That’s right, with a 2-year-old boy, we’ve officially entered the biting stage. Luckily for us, he’s not the biter… unlucky for him. For the past two weeks, he’s come home from daycare with bite marks on his arms, legs and back. It’s tough to see, but thankfully his teachers have been very involved and reassuring. They’ve also been in touch and working with the parents of the biter. To be honest, I feel worse for them than my own son. Dealing with a biter can make a parent feel helpless, and horrible for the other child involved.
The good news is that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that, in most cases, our tiny terrors will stop biting once they learn to speak more. The AAP says that biting is common in children between the ages of 12 and 36 months, when developmental theorists believe that it serves as a crude form of communication before children acquire enough language to express their emotions, and when most kids are suddenly exposed to many more kids at preschool. In one study of children in daycare, physical aggression peaked at 24 months of age, at which point one in four kids engaged in aggressive acts. And the National Association for the Education of Young Children estimates that one out of every 10 2-year-olds engages in biting behaviors. While infants bite primarily as a form of exploration or because of teething pain, toddlers may chomp away for a variety of reasons.
- Reason: Teething – biting down makes her gums feel better. Toddlers often have the hardest time with this form of biting when they begin getting their 2-year-old molars.
- What to do: Offer her a soft teething toy or wet washcloth.
- Reason: Frustration – lacking language skills, he bites when he can’t say what he wants.
- What to do: Try to offer the right word. Tell him that biting is not okay, and give him something else to chew.
- Reason: Attention – unable to speak, she’ll try to engage her peers by taking a chunk out of them.
- What to do: Model the words for her (“You’d like to play with Sam”), and remind her that biting is wrong.
- Reason: Anger – toddlers are notorious for temper tantrums. Biting may occur during one of these fits.
- What to do: Remove your little hothead from the situation; give the no-biting talk once she’s cooled down.
So, biting is definitely the norm as far as toddler behavior is concerned, but that doesn’t make it okay. Toddlers who are still learning to talk may bite to express their feelings, but the AAP says it should be addressed immediately. If your child bites someone, let her know that biting is not okay. A prompt time-out can help her understand that biting is not an acceptable behavior. Although young children have little natural self-control, the AAP says you can try to show your child how to express her anger through words, not acts of aggression. Help her learn the difference between expressing herself versus acting out physically in anger or frustration. As your child learns and demonstrates these coping skills, watch closely and praise her efforts. If these simple disciplinary measures do not seem to work, talk with your pediatrician to see if there are other issues that may be behind your child’s aggressive behaviors.