Many toddlers go through a phase when they bite others. They do this for many reasons, including experimenting with cause and effect, feelings of fear or frustration, or as a release of tension. Caregivers must first understand the reasons for the biting in order to help the child modify her behavior. Most toddlers do not bite because they are choosing to misbehave, but because they need help expressing the feelings that they cannot yet put into words. That is where the adults can show them a more appropriate behavior.
1. Remain Calm
While being bitten can be upsetting, an adult needs to remain as calm as possible after a toddler bites. Most children are biting to release some tension or feelings of frustration, so having an adult angry with them will only add to those negative feelings. Instead, the caregiver should firmly tell the child that it is not OK to bite and redirect her behavior. Reacting in a calm way will not give the biting too much attention, which could actually reinforce the behavior in the future.
2. Offer More Attention
A toddler who is biting might be seeking more attention without a way to express those feelings. A caregiver can offer the child some individual attention by playing with her for a designated amount of time. This will allow the child to express her feelings in a safer environment. When a caregiver notices a toddler might be about to bite, she can intervene and allow the child to release their feelings of frustration in another way such as crying.
3. Offer an Alternative
Many times toddlers bite because their use of language hasn't developed to the point where they can express their feelings. They might be frustrated that a playmate took a toy, or feel stressed about a change in their routine at home. Caregivers can help children learn by modeling the language they should use, such as saying, "I see you are angry." If they are not ready to use words, the adults can offer a more acceptable form of expressing anger, such as punching a pillow or tearing pieces of scrap paper.
4. Remove the Child from the Setting
Once caregivers tell a toddler that biting is not acceptable, they can remove the child from the setting by putting her in a time-out or by redirecting her play, depending on the age of the child. Children younger than 18 months often are not able to sit in a time-out, but could be moved to a new area. Older toddlers can sit away from other play activities for up to one minute per year of their age. It is important for caregivers not to try to explain why biting is inappropriate, because young children do not have the ability to understand this or empathize with the person who was bitten. Instead, they should just simply state "We don't bite."
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