You are out enjoying the benefits of a playdate, when looking over you watch your toddler chomp down on his playmate’s arm. Horrified, you run over to discipline your pint-sized vampire….and take pause, unsure of the best way to deal with the situation.
The good news is you do not need to stock up on cloves of garlic to ward off a potential toddler vampire. You may be surprised to learn biting is a typical behavior of young children due to their lack of communication skills, impulsivity, and oral needs to relieve pain from teething. Knowing your toddler bit a friend on a play date can help you think that he was trying to communicate feelings of frustration or being threatened. He didn’t have the skills yet to calmly tell his friend, “Wait, I had that first,” or “Excuse me, you’re in my way,” so he used biting to convey his message.
To stop biting you may have gotten the advice to bite the child back, but this will reinforce that biting is an acceptable behavior. Instead, the following strategies will help your toddler stop biting and provide more appropriate ways to express their thoughts or feelings:
· Position yourself close to the children to have the ability to intervene quickly
· State rules positively by saying “Teeth are for chewing food”
· Help child develop language to express needs/wants verbally or through sign language
· Ensure snacks/meals are offered frequently and include a variety of textures to chew
· Provide items the child can chew on such as teething toys or frozen wash cloths
· Redirect biting to the appropriate item they can chew
· Read to the child simple board books about biting
Another strategy to use when the biting occurs again, because it will happen, is to focus the attention on the child who was bitten rather than give negative attention to your son. You can tell him “biting hurts” and include him in caring for his friend so he will eventually learn empathy for the child who was injured.
Understanding what occurred prior to the biting helps you recognize what may have influenced the behavior and allows you to view the behavior as age appropriate. If the biting increases in frequency, it may help to document what occurred along with the date and time. You may be able to find patterns, such as biting occurs shortly before lunch because he’s hungry. The information can further support you in preventing biting in the future.