If your toddler is going through a phase of biting other kids (or you!) there are a few strategies that you can try out to help you cope.

Why do kids bite?

Kids bite for a few reasons.

  • If they are teething and have a sore mouth, biting actually makes them feel better. This mostly applies to babies though.
  • Sometimes they are just seeing what happens when they bite. Little ones use their mouth to explore their world, just as they use their other senses.
  • They may like the reaction that biting causes, not realising that the ‘ouch!’ actually means that the other person is in pain.
  • They may struggle to communicate verbally, so instead of saying ‘hey, I wanted that truck!’ or ‘you’re hurting me!’ they get their message across via biting instead.
  • Kids can often bite as a way to get attention from the adults. This can be especially apparent during a change to their life such as a new baby at home.

What to do if they bite someone

  • You will need to keep a close eye on your little one if they are biting others, as they can often be pretty sneaky about it.
  • Go over to them, and using a firm voice say ‘NO we don’t bite people. Biting hurts.’
  • Make a fuss of the child that was bitten, asking them if they are OK and taking them to their parent. This helps the biter see that they don’t get extra attention when they bite.
  • Remove your child from the scene and sit down with them to reinforce the message. Depending on the age of the child you could try something like ‘We don’t bite people. You can bite a toy or food, but not a person. If you are feeling frustrated with that game why don’t we go and play on the swing instead. If you carry on biting we will have to go home.’
  • You can also help them find other ways to communicate (again, depending on their age). You might say something like ‘if Alex is playing rough then tell him that you don’t like that instead of biting him.’

How to minimise biting

  • Offer babies teething rings, toys and rusks to chew and gnaw on, as this gives them some relief from the pain of teething. You can also offer paracetamol, teething gel, or natural remedies such as herbal teething tablets or drops.
  • Step in if you see your bite-prone child getting frustrated. Help them to sort out the issue before they sink their teeth into another child’s arm.
  • If you feel that biting may be a way to get your attention, be sure to spend some quality time with the child each day. This could be a special puzzle that you do, or even just reading together.
  • Try not to refer to your child as ‘a biter’ in front of them as this sets up negative reinforcement of the behaviour.
  • Teach the child other ways to cope with anger and frustration – show them that a simple ‘that’s mine’ is a much better way to communicate than biting.
  • If they seem to be targeting a certain child with their biting, try to minimise contact with them for a while to see if that helps. Explain to their parents that you are taking this step as you don’t want to see their child get hurt.
  • Try to avoid triggers for biting, such as being overtired, hungry, or having to share a certain special toy. Some kids also seem to be set off if they have too much on in one day, so try to keep activities short and sweet to avoid them getting overstimulated.
  • Check out your local library as there are some terrific kids books about biting that might help your child understand why it is not allowed.

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