Updated: Mar 25
Toddler biting is a lot of stress for parents, teachers, biters and the bitten. Here's a cheat sheet of positive and appropriate actions you can take to stop biting before it gets any worse.
These actions are developed and used by me, an early childhood teacher with 43 years hand-on experience backed up by the current research of a lifelong learner and a MA in human development. These methods work.
I've had more than a few children in my care who have bitten, and I've always been able to teach them to use other, more socially acceptable methods of dealing with their anger and impulses.
Here's the "cheat sheet" condensed version of the action steps to take if you're faced with a biting issue.
Use the BAD method of observation. Take some time right now to write down everything that you remember about what occurred Before After and During the incident. Were they hungry, tired or in a crowded space? Was it noisy? Who was there? What were they doing? Where were you? What time of day was it?
Shadow and scan. When biting's happened and you don't want it to happen again, you have to shadow (follow) your child and watch them like a hawk, especially in light of what you noticed from your BAD method notes. If you do this right, you'll soon be trusting them to play on their own again. If you can't be close enough to intervene quickly, take the child with you as your "buddy" and hold their hand or hold them until you feel safe letting them down.
Say Stop! When you see it start to happen. Move in quickly and safely. If you can't stop the bite from happening, Say "biting hurts" to the biter and immediately care for the bitten. Wash and soothe the area, and apply ice if there's any swelling. If the skin's been broken you'll need to call the doctor because of possible infection.
Use the Mr. Rogers Method. During a calm time later, use puppets to tell a story about a child who feels so frustrated, they bite another child. Talk about the way the puppets feel in a non-judgmental way and have the puppets learn to solve the problem in a better way like asking for a turn or holding out their hand to ask.
Get a dummy. Sometimes biting happens with no provocation but regardless, it helps if the child is given a substitute to chew or suck on. Pacifiers, special chewing necklaces, teething rings, wet washcloths, and thumbs have all been known to work. Kids who bite are not more aggressive or meaner than ones who don't. They are often impulsive and very often have other oral habits.
Create peace. Remove clutter. Encourage space between kids and make places to play separately. Consider getting duplicates of some toys or removing them for a while. Add soft lighting and maybe quiet or gentle music to the environment. Teach your child to communicate by using language stimulation. Play games like freeze dance that encourage body control. Try yoga with kids. Increase the amount of sensory play like play dough, bathtime play, sandbox, and swinging.
Nanci J. Bradley is a child and family
educator, author, energy facilitator, family aerobics instructor and all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, lifelong learning, healthy eating, fun, and more than anything else, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BA in education from Northern Illinois University in 1986. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison, WI.