Are you familiar with that sinking feeling in your stomach as you pick up a call from your toddler’s daycare?
If you’re not, don’t get too comfortable. Even happy, easygoing toddlers can go through the dreaded biting phase—and sometimes it lasts for months at a time. Whether you’re covered in tooth-shaped bruises yourself or have had to curb your toddler’s social life due to other parents’ complaints, it’s a universally frustrating part of child development.
Luckily, we’re here today with six proven strategies you can take to nip (no pun intended) your toddler’s biting in the bud.
1. Respond firmly, but check your anger
If you make the biting a big deal, it will be a big deal. It’s very important for your toddler to understand that biting is bad, but dramatic shrieking or an angry tirade will only direct the focus away from the problem.
Be firm without an excess of emotion: “No, Bobby. Biting hurts. We do not bite.”
2. Focus on the bite-ee
Negative attention is still attention, and boy, do toddlers love attention! When your toddler bites a playmate, put your focus on the injured party. Toddlers who bite for attention will learn very quickly that they are basically giving that attention away.
3. Look for avoidable causes
There are often underlying causes to biting. If this is the case with your toddler, they may not respond to the usual biting remedies—and may even dig in their heels in response. Observe your toddler at play and ask yourself some questions:
Do they bite when they are tired or overstimulated? Are they around other biters? When you know what causes the biting, you can avoid the trigger. Getting better sleep or choosing calmer play environments may be just what the doctor ordered.
4. Find biteable alternatives
If the cause is an unavoidable one, like teething, you can train your toddler to bite things that don’t have nerve endings.
Teethers and cold washcloths are especially good for teething, while regular, crunchy snacks have been shown to lower the amount of biting incidents in chompy toddlers. Just make sure nothing you give them is a choking hazard!
5. Show them a better way
Although a firm “no” has its place, it’s a little vague. When this is your toddler’s main coping mechanism for stressful situations, they may need your help understanding what to do instead.
If it’s their way of pushing others away when they need personal space, for example, you can help them practice stepping back and saying, “Too close.”
Or, if your toddler is going through a major life change like a move, a new sibling, or a divorce in the family, the biting may be their way of regaining a little control. They could have big emotions trapped in that little body. It’s possible that, with the right outlet for those feelings, the biting could resolve itself.
6. Offer positive reinforcement
When they act appropriately in a situation where they would otherwise have bitten, verbalize what they did right and praise them.
“Bobby! You used your words! Great job.”
This goes back to the attention point. When a toddler is getting positive attention, they’re less likely to seek out the negative kind.
Whatever you decide to do, try to be consistent. Behaviors like biting can require a lot of patience and tenacity to end. But with an open mind and the right approach, this phase will be in the rearview mirror before you know it.