Toddlers do the most adorable things: Give unexpected hugs, squeal with laughter and cuddle up to you when they’re tired.
But as any parent of a toddler will tell you, they also do some not-so-adorable things, like kick, scream … or even bite.
“Biting can be a way for toddlers to get attention or express their feelings, so it’s really a form of expression or language,”said Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “They know what they want, but they can’t say it or do it, so kids might bite to communicate those needs.”
Biting is slightly more common in boys and tends to occur most often between the 1st and 2nd birthday. The good news is as language skills develop, so do coping skills and biting tends to lessen.
In the meantime, don’t fret. There are ways to get to the bottom of your toddler’s biting habit.
Dr. Adams offers 5 tips to help nip this behavior in the bud.
1. Be consistent.
As soon as the situation occurs, address your child with a firm, “no biting!” or “biting hurts!” Keep it simple and easy for a toddler to understand.
“Don’t give lengthy explanations as to why it’s wrong or that biting hurts because toddlers won’t totally understand it,” said Dr. Adams. “Just remove your child from the situation and make it clear biting is wrong by saying, ‘No biting,’ forcefully and loud. You may have to say it over and over again until your child gets the message.”
Remaining as calm as possible will help to resolve the situation more quickly. Be consistent and reinforce no biting at all times. Also, make sure any caregivers follow the same tactics so that your child will learn.
2. Plan ahead.
Toddlers might be more comfortable and not feel the urge to bite if they know what to expect in new or high-energy situations. For example, if biting occurs at daycare, tell your child what to expect each day. If a larger, more chaotic environment seems overwhelming, you might consider putting your child in a smaller setting.
“If you see your child biting, assess the situation and try to figure out the cause of it,” said Dr. Adams. “Simply avoiding stressful or overwhelming situations may stop the behavior in its tracks.”
3. Find alternatives.
As your child’s language skills develop, you can help him find other, safer ways to express negative emotions. Teach him to tell other kids “no,” “stop” and “that’s mine” when trying to communicate with others.
“If you know your child has the potential to bite, offer preventative tactics,” said Dr. Adams. “Teach them how to give kisses instead if they’re doing it to express affection, or teach them to share if they’re doing it because a child stole a toy.”
In addition, distraction works wonders with kids this age. If emotions and energy levels are running high or if boredom has set in, help redirect your toddler’s attention to a more positive activity, such as dancing, coloring or playing a game.
4. Use positive reinforcement.
Rather than reward this negative behavior with attention, make it a point to praise your child when he behaves well. If your child is biting for attention, this may help prevent the behavior in the first place.
5. Use discipline tactics.
If you’ve tried the steps above and the behavior doesn’t stop, timeouts may be effective. Take your child to a designated timeout area — a kitchen chair or bottom stair — for a minute or 2 to calm down.
As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for timeouts. Shorter timeouts can be effective, but longer ones have no added benefit and can sometimes undermine your efforts if your little one gets up and refuses to return before you signal that the timeout has ended.
“Teach your child to say he’s sorry to the kid he bit,” said Dr. Adams. “It’s a good time to teach responsibility for his behavior.”
Although biting is common in toddlers, excessive biting especially when it’s associated with other hostile behaviors like hitting might indicate that something is troubling your child. If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, talk to your pediatrician about finding out its causes and ways to deal with it.