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Help! What Can I Do About Toddler Biting?

Aren’t Timmy and Sarah playing so nicely together, look at the sharing the blocks… Suddenly the moment that every parent dreads breaks the serenity of play. Timmy turns around and sinks his teeth into Sarah’s arm and chaos ensues. There are tears, there is parent panic, there is guilt, there is anger, and there is a red half-circle tooth mark blazing on Sarah’s little arm.

Toddler biting. The thing that every parent dreads. Give me tantrums, kicking and throwing toys any day over biting! Not only does biting damage sensitive flesh, but it also damages sensitive feelings - of the little fearful victims, and the enraged large victims! Kids that bite are often excluded playgroups, daycares and social invitations, and their parents are usually considered pariahs.

So why does toddler biting happen? And more importantly, can you stop it? Let’s have a look at the ins and outs of those little gnashing jaws.

 

Why Does Toddler Biting Happen?

Biting is quite a common thing in the toddler age group, but that doesn't make it any less distressing. Babies begin to use biting as a way to cope with teething and then as a form of exploration and learning. Everything will go in their mouth and they will test each item’s strength by giving it a chomp. As they begin to understand that they can cause an effect when they bite, they might start doing it to get a reaction.

We all know that toddlers have big emotions and they have difficulty verbalising those big emotions. When they experience feelings of anger, fear, or frustration, they do not have the language skills to deal with them. So, some children may choose to bite when they can’t find the words to say what they really feel quickly enough.

Unfortunately, if you are a boy-Mum, you are more likely to have a biter than if you are a girl-Mum. Kids usually turn to biting between their 1st and 2nd birthdays. The good news is that as their language improves, the tendency to bite reduces.

But you don’t have to wait for that, you can deal with biting as it becomes a problem.

 

Should I Bite Them Back?

One of the suggestions for dealing with biting is to bite your toddler back ‘to show them how it feels’. The only problem with this method is that your toddler is too young to grasp the concept of putting themselves in someone else's shoes. They can’t see the connection between what they do is being done to them.

At this age, children do most of their learning in a social sense and by following the examples of their parents. How can they grasp that they shouldn't bite if you then do it to them? The idea of biting them back is pointless, and it hurts.

 

How Do I Stop It?

You might think that biting is just another one of those phases that you have to live through as a parent. But that is not the case. But if I don’t bite them back, how do I stop the biting?

The most important thing is to deal with the behaviour immediately. So if there is a biting incident, you need to address it then and there, regardless of where you are.

Here is a process you can follow…

  1. Calmly and firmly tell your toddler ‘No biting’. They are too little to understand lengthy explanations, so keep your instructions short and to the point. Make it clear that biting is unacceptable.
  2. Turn your attention to the person that has been bitten. Comfort them and provide medical treatment if the bite has broken the skin or is particularly painful. This teaches your toddler to have empathy and shows them that they have hurt someone with their actions.
  3. Don’t reward the biter’s behaviour, even indirectly. Don’t pick them up to tell them off. If they are upset that they have hurt their victim then you can comfort them briefly, but not so much that they will repeat the negative behaviour for attention.
  4. When everything has calmed down, explain that there are words to use that can help if they are in the same situation again. No, stop and I don’t like that are all good options.

 

Because they are so young, discipline is not normally needed. But for older children, or persistent offenders, you can try a timeout (1 minute per year old) to curb the behaviour.

Toddler biting is not necessarily a behaviour that you can prevent. But if it does happen, help your little one to work through their emotions and teach them to talk about things rather than physically showing their aggression with biting.