Remember my 6 Steps for Halting Harm for Toddler Biting

(Here as it relates to one toddler biting another. Biting parent/nursing article biting coming soon!)

Biting is an unfortunate and socially inappropriate but completely age-appropriate behavior that many children go through. 

  1. “No. Ouch.” Show pain on your face, it is empathy for the one bitten. All words are serious but calm.  
  2. “We don’t bite. Biting Hurts. Friends don’t like bites.” 
  3. “I can’t let you hurt Olivia.” we say as we gently move our child by hand or picking up away from the other child to a quieter place where they can hear us. 
  4. We remain connected to our child with a kind hand on the back or such, try to get down to get eye contact. Repeat “We don’t bite. Biting hurts. Friends don’t like bites.” Teeth are for biting, do you need to bite a snack? Do you want to bite a teether or your own toy? 
  5. Go back to the child. Say “Sorry.” Model apology rather than force it. Model a gentle consensual behavior like a hand pat, or a hug. “May I hug you? I want to show that we hug our friends not bite them.” 
  6. Remain very close so you can prevent your toddler from biting / remind child. Testing may happen at first. What ends this is A) a very consistent response like the above steps and B) Redirect to another place “I can’t let you play here because you were biting Olivia and I’m scared for her that she will get another bite.” or “We need to leave because when we bite at the park we can’t play at the park.” This may be the first consequence your young child will understand. 

Consistency, redirecting, modeling. No big surprise parent reactions because we want folks around us to see we are “disciplining” our child. To discipline actually means to teach. 

Are the 6 Steps a Consequence? 

We gentle discipline gurus usually save actual consequences for the “age of reason” around 4-5, but with this behavior we can’t allow it to work itself out or allow them to learn from modeling over time mostly because it could draw blood, make us lose friends, or get folks kicked out of daycare that parents desperately need. 

For older kids, you will want to give reminders first if biting is a problem. We are going to see friends, we don’t bite. There will be immediate consequences of removal for biting rather than do-overs. You will also be able to talk to your child to find out why the biting happened and take that information to help prevent future biting. 

If you can’t figure out why this biting is happening repeatedly, begin to journal what was happening before the biting, is it the same child and what were they doing, what tools and words can you give your child for this situation? Did your child need food or to burn energy before being with the other children? 

From Learned Experience…

In year 9 of teaching preschool, and year 2 of directing my own school, we had a persistent biter of 20 months old. It was very challenging and resolved with vigilance when that child was around the bitee of choice, extremely consistent caregiver behavior and words and compassion for everyone involved including both sets of parents. 

Make sure toddlers/preschoolers have plenty of opportunity to burn energy outdoors, some things that are OK to bite and that we model talking about our intense feelings (including frustration and anger)  so our children can see that they are normal and can develop words for them. 

Ouch, it’s your baby! 

If your child is the one being bitten? Tell the other parent you know this is an unfortunate but age-appropriate behavior and you will now watch them very closely together. Tell them you love them and send them this article! The same for daycare or preschool; they may not have a consistent plan for biting yet. 

Questions?  Talk to me! If you're not sure about the best way I can serve you, tell me a bit about your challenge here. I would love to hear from you if you have any questions about services, workshops or speaking engagements. Please fill out the form below and I will reply as soon as possible.

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