This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.


Toddler Biting and Other Nasties!

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
Toddler Biting and Other Nasties!
This blog came and grabbed me this week. I could say it came up and bit me but that's not quite true!

I had a phone call from some concerned parents and their 20 month old toddler was wreaking havoc at the local playground and playgroup. He was randomly biting children he had taken a dislike to! Poor parents and poor bitten children!
    • Biting is one of the most common and unpleasant of toddler behaviours. It usually occurs around the 18 month to three year old age range and can be a sign of aggression or pleasure - pleasure vs pain! Sometimes they just get so excited that they bite and before they know it theyʼve left a mark and theyʼre in strife. Often biting is a sign of being frightened or frustrated.

    • Every infant experiments with biting. Babies bite their teething toys, their mumʼs nipple, their dummy, or the fingers of their parents. Usually, the parent's immediate flinch or cry of surprise communicates to the child that biting hurts, and after a few experiments, the child has learned enough about biting to move on. The experiments cease. There's nothing bad or wrong with these biting experiments: the baby is doing what he or she must do to learn.

    • It helps the learning process if the adult responds with a loud “Ouch! Please don't bite me,” but doesn't blame, punish, or lecture the baby. The baby needs to experiment in order to learn, so a few painful moments will be necessary before the learning process has taken its course.

    • If the baby bites the nipple, remove them from the breast say a very stern NO and use your index finger when saying NO. Allow the feed to continue once they have stopped biting. They may cry at the shock of being taken off the boob but thatʼs OK. Itʼs the start of learning about consequences of their actions.

    • It can run in families. My brother and his son were both biters and I was the bitten big sister. It took a comment from my mum of ʻwhy donʼt you just run away when you think heʼs going to bite you!ʼ It was that simple. I was older (4yo) so it was easier to move away and guess what?...he stopped biting!

  • It really matters as to how you respond to the biter and the bitten. Never ever bite the biter. Iʼve seen every way of dealing with biting behaviour but biting the biter back should NEVER EVER happen. It teaches them that violence is OK and you, the parent has lost control. Youʼve just been reduced to his/her level. I like to think that we as a human race has started to move on from such neanderthal tactics!

Toddler sleep Owen Tang

OK, so how should you respond?
    • You donʼt need to look for a reason. The toddler may not know why they have done it. It may have been a purely reflex response. So donʼt ask why, you may never get an answer. Impulse control is something many toddlers struggle with until they reach 3 years of age. Always remember it is something which needs time to master. Sometimes children bite because they just wanted to and are aware of the consequences but the desire to do the act was stronger than the desire to avoid doing it.

    • Pay attention to the bitten and make a real fuss of them, ʻOh you poor thing Sophie it looks so sore. Come here and Iʼlll give you a cuddle and Iʼll kiss it betterʼ. Make sure the biter can hear and see your response. Completely ignore the biter. Donʼt say ʻIʼm ignoring you Sam, youʼre such a bad boy.ʼ By commenting you have just reinforced the behaviour. Any attention, negative or positive will reinforce behaviours.

  • Ultimately the toddler needs to feel secure and listened to rather than chastised.
Help a child release tensions in productive ways
  • Biting doesnʼt release a childʼs inner tension. A child feels much worse after he's bitten someone, even if he appears to be indifferent. Hurting someone adds to his load of upset, and the guilt he feels makes him look like he doesnʼt care. But inside, heʼs more frightened than before.
  • When a child has bitten someone they need help with emotional self-regulation. Managing emotions is a skill which must be taught and developed. It starts with sleep training and being able to put yourself to sleep. If a child hasn't mastered the skill of self-soothing without an aid including a dummy or being fed to sleep they probably haven't acquired emotional and physical self-regulation.
  • Sometimes they bite because they feel frustrated yet do not have the words to help themselves be understood. If you think this is the case then this is how you approach the biting incident. For a 12 month old say 'I want you to stop biting mummy,' and say a stern NO and use your index finger. It's the same approach when a baby bites the mums nipple when breast feeding. He may cry and this is OK you want him to release his pent up emotions.
  • Utilise special time - using the Childʼs Game to help release and work through tensions. Read my blog on it here:
Keep in touch with your toddler and LISTEN to them. Eventually the aggression will subside.

← Older Post Newer Post →