Toddlers bite. Not all of them, but many of them. First and foremost, it should be known that it is a typical and age appropriate behavior and if your child bites it does not mean that they are bullies, aggressors, or that they have an intention to hurt someone. Most often, biting in toddlerhood is a form of communication. They are communicating frustrations, anxieties, excitement or feeing overwhelmed. Even if they are talking up a storm, the words to tell another child "Hey, that's my toy. I'm not done with it yet" will most likely not flow freely from their mouths during a struggle. So, if your child is bit or if your child has bit someone else, please read on and realize that the biting incident itself is not the biggest issue, it's how you handle it that is most important.
Here are my suggestions from my years of experiences with toddlers and biting. If you have observed a child bite another child, respond quickly to the one who was bit to make sure they are okay and perform any first aid. You can tell the biter in a firm but calm voice "No biting" but, it is also important to keep the biter close by during the comforting process; your goal is to teach the biter empathy. A young toddler is not developmentally capable of understanding how their actions effect other people, the reason they bite (or push or grab) is to get what they want, not to hurt the other child. Show the biter that you are comforting and paying attention to the one who was bit, and try to get the biter to comfort the other child as well. Depending on the age of the child you can have the biter use a gentle touch in the area where they bit, get a cup of water, help hold an ice pack, give a hug, and say words like 'gentle' and 'nice.'
After an appropriate amount of care and attention is given to the child who was bit, I recommend separating the two children to prevent another incident. Both children, while they may seem calm, are most likely still anxious and worked up from the interaction. Being on edge like that will only add to the likelihood of it occurring again.
Later in the day, when you think the biter is no longer feeling frustrated or upset, try to have a gentle and calm conversation saying things like 'Teeth are for not for biting' and 'We use our teeth to eat,' you can say these things when it's appropriate such as at lunch or snack time. Having these conversations when the child is not in a state of frustration or anger will allow him to process your words. And maybe, you will be able to prevent a bite from happening in the future. For example, if you see that your child looks like he is getting frustrated and you think he is going to bite, you can use the phrases that you said to him earlier "Remember, teeth are for eating" and that gentle reminder may be all he needs to control his actions.
It's also helpful to give your verbal toddler words to use in situations where they may resort to biting, such as 'You can tell your friend "no mine."' While you can and should say it's not okay to bite, remember to tell them what it is okay to do (i.e. using teeth to chew), we can't expect children to stop a behavior if they do not know an acceptable one to replace it with.
This is really just a basic plan on how to deal with biting, a child who bites infrequently should benefit from this type of intervention. If biting is occurring regularly (everyday, several times a day) or if the biter is only biting one child, other steps may be necessary such as a change of environment, adjusting sleep and/or eating routines, keeping certain children separated, constant monitoring, etc...
Below are some links to articles on biting that I found to be helpful, informative and appropriate for toddlers.
Some ways to prevent biting:
*Set up your child's play environment (classroom) so that toys and materials are easily accessible and not frustrating
*Make sure the items you put out are age appropriate so that they can be challenged but successful, this will help to prevent frustrations.
*Keep your toddler on a fun and flexible schedule. Make sure their day is full of activities and outings so that they don't get bored but also stick to a routine (breakfast, play, nap, lunch, outing, snack, play, dinner) so that they are not overwhelmed or generally know what to expect.
*Allow your toddler to express their feelings and emotions. Shockingly, tantrums are a good thing! It means they are mad and able to show it. Try to refrain from putting a pacifier in, or doing whatever it is you know calms them down in an instant, and allow them to get their feelings out. Infants and toddlers have emotions just like adults do. Think about how you feel if you are not able to vent to a friend about your bad day at work and how that builds up over time if you have no one to talk too. Your toddler may be frustrated that they can't put a puzzle together and they need to be able to tell you about it. If their feelings continuously get stifled, the tension will build up and biting is one way in which it can be released.
*Give choices. I started giving O a choice of snack when he was about 11 months old - I show him the hummus and yogurt containers and let him choose. Having even a small amount of control will help to reduce possible frustrations. Choices include snacks, outfits, shoes, toys, etc...
*If your toddler spends a great deal of time with another child and they are both interested in the same type of toy, it may be worth it to invest in two of the toys that they both go after first.
*Be proactive. If you see your friends son reading your daughters favorite book, try to keep your daughter distracted OR invite both children onto your lap to read it together.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions regarding your toddler and biting.