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Toddler Biting and How To Handle It Like A Pro!

Few toddler behaviors are more concerning than biting.

So many people are affected when it happens. And it does happen.

Primal urge? Lack of self-control because of developmental age? Level of anger? Sensory issues, Environmental issues? Normal anxiety? Physical health? Nutrition? Schedule? Learning?

All of the above?

If you guessed all of the above, you’re absolutely right. Biting is a complex physical and emotional issue and it’s actually caused by some combination of the factors above.

How do I know this? Well, after a lot of higher-level education mixed with 43 years of experience with real children aged 0-8, I’ve seen it quite a few times. I know a lot about prevention but that’s not always possible no matter how hard we try. So in this article, I’m going to talk about what to do before, during, and after a biting incident.

Though I’m focussing on toddlers, because it happens most often at this age, the strategies can be applied to any age child.

Cheat Sheet For Toddler Biting

Here's the "cheat sheet" condensed version of the action steps to take if you're faced with a biting issue.

Use the BAD method of observation. Take some time right now to write down everything that you remember about what occurred Before After and During the incident. Were they hungry, tired, or in a crowded space? Was it noisy? Who was there? What were they doing? Where were you? What time of day was it?

Shadow and scan. When biting's happened and you don't want it to happen again, you have to shadow (follow) your child and watch them like a hawk, especially in light of what you noticed from your BAD method notes. If you do this right, you'll soon be trusting them to play on their own again. If you can't be close enough to intervene quickly, take the child with you as your "buddy" and hold their hand or hold them until you feel safe letting them wander on their own.

Say Stop! When you see it start to happen. Move in quickly and safely. If you can't stop the bite from happening, Say "biting hurts" to the biter and immediately care for the bitten.

Wash and soothe the area, and apply ice if there's any swelling. If the skin's been broken the child will have to see a health care professional because of a possible infection.

Since time-outs probably won't help, remind the biter that biting hurts and that their friend is crying. Get them calm in an area away from where the biting happened. You can suggest a way to make the bitten child feel better like a hug if the child is calm and willing. Never force the issue when the child is still wound-up though.

Use the Mr. Rogers Method. During a calm time later, use puppets to tell a story about a child who feels so frustrated, they bite another child. Talk about the way the puppets feel in a non-judgmental way and have the puppets learn to solve the problem in a better way like asking for a turn or holding out their hand to ask.

Get a dummy. Sometimes biting happens with no provocation but regardless, it helps if the child is given a substitute to chew or suck on. Pacifiers, special chewing necklaces, teething rings, wet washcloths, and thumbs have all been known to work. Kids who bite are not more aggressive or meaner than those who don't. They are often impulsive and very often have other oral habits.

Create peace. Remove clutter. Encourage space between kids and make places to play separately. Consider getting duplicates of some toys or removing them for a while. Add soft lighting and maybe quiet or gentle music to the environment.

Teach your child to communicate by using language stimulation or sign language. Play games like freeze dance that encourage body control. Try yoga stories with kids. Increase the amount of sensory play like play dough, bathtime play, sandbox, and swinging.

You might be interested in reading this article I wrote about having a good day with your challenging child(ren)

If you want more information on how to say things to children, join our community here.

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You’ll love it, it’s a condensation of some of my best ideas that really work and it’s easy to use in response to problems that occur in parenting.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human dev from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI and is the founder of early childhood rocks, a non-profit org dedicated to creating change through early childhood education.

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