Taming the Biting Toddler

Help! My friend's daughter, age two, has recently started biting. My daughter is usually at the receiving end of it. What can we do to discourage this behavior? Do you have any advice for my friend? She would love to hear it.

--A concerned Parent Souper
Question:

Biting is very common in this age group. Thinking about the reasons children bite may help you come up with some strategies for preventing it. In our book The Creative Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers, we outline some typical reasons why children bite and what to do to prevent this behavior.

Reason: Toddlers have a strong need for independence and control. The response to biting satisfies these needs and reinforces the behavior. Strategy: Give choices throughout the day, and reinforce positive social behavior. If children get attention when they are not biting, they will not have to use this negative behavior to feel a sense of personal power.

Reason: Teething hurts their mouths. Strategy: Offer teething toys or frozen bagels to mouth.

Reason: They are experimenting Children may want to touch, smell and taste other people to learn more about them. Strategy: Provide a wide variety of sensory-motor experiences (such as finger painting, playing with dough, preparing and eating food, or engaging in water and sand play) to satisfy this need.

Reason: They are exploring cause and effect. "What will happen when I bite?" Strategy: Provide several activities and toys that respond to children's actions, helping them learn about cause and effect.

Reason: They are trying to make contact with another child. Strategy: Give children many opportunities to interact with one another. Guide their behavior as necessary, paying special attention to positive interactions.

Reason: They feel frustrated or angry. Some children lack skills to cope with situations and feelings, such as wanting another child's toy or an adult's attention. Strategy: Watch for signs of rising frustration and potential conflict. You can often intercept a potentially harmful incident by promptly responding to children's needs.

Reason: They are asking for attention. Strategy: Give children lots of attention throughout the day.

Reason: They are imitating behavior. Strategy: Model loving, supporting behavior. Offer children positive alternatives for negative behavior. Never bite a child to show how it feels to be bitten.

Reason: They feel threatened. When some children feel they are in danger, they bite in self-defense. Other children may be overwhelmed by their surroundings or events in their lives and bite as a means of gaining control. Strategy: Provide support and assurance, so that the child recognizes that he and his possessions are safe.

When biting has occurred, respond to the situation promptly. Comfort the child who was bitten. Wash the wound. State clearly that biting is not okay. Be firm. Invite the child who bit to help you take care of the bitten child. Help the biter understand that there are other ways to express anger, like using words or growling like a tiger.

-- Diane Dodge, Teaching Strategies

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