How To Get Your Toddler To Stop Biting
Being a parent is a privilege and a blessing. Though it may test your patience and cause extreme exhaustion at times, being the one who GETS to raise your little ones and teach them how to come into the world is a role not to be taken for granted. This means that when crucial phases come up in a child’s life that may tempt the parent to yell, scream, or react without first thinking, we, as the parent, must gather all of the self-control we can muster, take a deep breath, and respond as thoughtfully as we can. Our little ones watch every move we make; we are forever on display for them as a teacher, mentor, and leader. In line with this, there comes a phase in every child’s life that parents everywhere dread, but that requires our utmost level of careful attention, such as biting.
When your child bites, it is essential first to remember that their biting is a symptom of a more profound struggle. So, as you prepare to discipline your toddler, think through the cause behind the behavior based on their age so that you can adjust your response. Are they teething and in pain? Do they feel out of control and maybe are looking for an outlet for their emotions? Are they seeking attention? Are they looking for a reaction? Are they exploring their world and looking to understand cause and effect? Once you can target the underlying motivation for their biting, you will be able to address it adequately.
There are many different approaches to how to get your toddler to stop biting, depending on who it is that they have sunk their tiny teeth into.
If they bite you: If your toddler bites you or your spouse, personally assess the motivation behind the action, (i.e. to express emotion, during nursing, or just to get a reaction), then you may try responding in this way: Get down to your toddlers’ level, look in their eyes, gently rub your hands on their face and arms and say “Biting me is not acceptable behavior. I want you to be gentle. Do you see what I am doing? This is how you act gently”. If they bite you a second time, then set them down far away from you to let them know you will not tolerate that behavior and they cannot be near you if they are going to bite you. If they bite you a third time, you might try flicking their cheek and firmly say “NO, that is not acceptable behavior,” then set them away from you again. By flicking their cheek after multiple offenses, you will help them to understand that their mouth is the body part that is being offensive. This method efficiently helped my son to stop biting, during nursing especially.
If they bite someone else: If your toddler bites someone else, (most likely another toddler or a sibling), it is important to first address the unacceptable behavior by getting down to their level, eye-to-eye, and explaining to them in a firm, yet calm, tone why that behavior is not okay. You may flick their cheek, if that is your style, or you may try pulling them away from the person they bit, set them in “time out”, and explain to them that they have hurt someone else and they will not be allowed to be near that other person until they are ready to apologize. A great tool for deciding how long they should sit in “time-out” is to go by their age. So, if they are one year old, set them in timeout for 1 minute, two years, 2 minutes, three years, 3 minutes and so on. While your child sits in time out, preferably within plain sight of you and the child they hurt, address the sibling or friend. It is important for your toddler to see that the other child receives attention and that the bite marks they caused are inspected (and treated or kissed) so that they understand biting for a “reaction” or “attention” will not give them what they are looking for. Once your toddlers’ timeout time is over, go over to them, wrap them in a huge hug and tell them you love them before helping them to apologize to their friend or sibling. At the end of discipline, our children should ALWAYS know that we love them and that there’s nothing they can do to make us stop loving them.
The last crucial step, in any case, is this: make sure to highly praise and affirm the following five positive behaviors your toddler does. Make sure to say “thank you for sitting nicely,” “I love the way you are playing with your sister,” “You are such a great helper!”, and “I appreciate you putting all of your toys away without my asking!” This way, your toddler receives the attention they are looking for when they are well behaved which encourages them to act this way more often.
Remember- you are not alone! Every mom everywhere deals with the biting phase. It is a fleeting moment in time in comparison to the rest of their lives, so make it count!
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