You walk into your toddler‘s preschool room and one look tells you something is wrong. He doesn’t look happy. Biting? Ouch, who does it hurt more? Your toddler because he got a time-out, the toddler he bit or you? Moms take biting personally. You think that you are not a good Mom and that you haven‘t taught your toddler the proper social graces. Well, that couldn’t be further than the truth. It is very common for some toddlers to bite. Here are some reasons why:
- Is he teething?
- Does he want attention?
- Is he trying to assert his independence?
- Is he frustrated?
- Is he stressed?
- Is he curious.
- Does he have a limited vocabulary to say what he wants?
- Does he want to be in charge?
- Have there been any big changes in his lfe? (a move, new sibling, etc.)
The following tips should help your toddler learn it’s more fun to use his teeth for eating and brushing!
- If your toddler is teething and those molars hurt, give him an a frozen juice pop, frozen banana, frozen bagel or anything cold to bite on to make his gums feel better.
- When you see your toddler bite, go over to him immediately. Take his two little hands in yours, look him in the eyes and with a very stern expression say, “No, we don’t bite, it hurts!” If he laughs and doesn‘t take you seriously, make sure not to crack a smile. This will only provide negative reinforcement.
- If your toddler bites because he wants a toy another child has, tell him he needs to share and take turns. Try using the five minute rule. Matt can play with the truck for five minutes and then it is your turn. You can even show your toddler how to set the timer for five minutes.
- If your toddler bites another child because he hits or pushes him, tell your toddler to use his words. “Please don’t hit me, that hurt!”
- If the other child is crying, tell your toddler “look at Ken crying, biting hurts. Please tell him you are sorry and shake hands.”
- Comfort the crying child first even if your first inclination is to reprimand your own toddler.
- If your toddler broke the other child’s skin, let him help you put on the band-aid .Try and make your toddler part of the comforting process. This is a great way to teach nurturing behavior.
- Tell your toddler that biting is not okay and remove him from the situation getting him interested in another activity. Why not try reading a book together while sharing lots of hugs. This works especially well if your toddler is biting out of frustration.
- Buy a few books about biting and read them with your toddler. Two great books I recommend are Teeth are not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen and No Biting by Karen Katz.
- Put your toddler in time out until he calms down. Don’t try to talk about biting or anything else when he is in the throes of crying.
- If he bites out of frustration, find an activity that he likes and can master. Then give lots of positive reinforcement.
- Try playing ball or bean bag toss. Sometimes a physical activity helps calm the frustration.
- Never bite your child back. This only reinforces their negative behavior.
- If your toddler becomes a habitual biter, observe what happens just before he bites and try and change it.
- Ask your toddler to tell you why he bit the other child and then talk about it.
- If your toddler has a biting problem in preschool, ask his teacher if there is a pattern. Is he doing a specific activity that may be frustrating him before he bites? If this is the case, enlist her help in finding an activity that will make him feel good about himself.
- Make a sticker chart. Each day you get a good report from the teacher, let your toddler put a sticker on the chart. Give him a special reward for five days with not biting!
- Don’t over-react. If your toddler is biting to get attention, he will be very aware of your first reactions and this will only reinforce biting as a good way to get mommy’s attention.
While this problem can be very frustrating and embarrassing, don’t worry. I promise your toddler will outgrow this behavior. Just be calm and patient and enjoy all the new adventures you are having with him.
For lots of tips to help make those toddler years easier, check out Help My Toddler Came Without Instructions
Baby Instructions: Ouch!…That Hurt! by Blythe Lipman Blythe Lipman