You are sitting at a tea with your friends and their toddlers when there is a blood-curdling shriek from one of your friend’s toddlers. Little Amy is crying inconsolably, with a bright red imprint of a full set of teeth on her cheek. Your blood runs cold as you realise the perpetrator is you little angel.

We all love our children unconditionally and actually we want the world to think they are great too! So when your toddler gets labelled as naughty or a biter, nothing feels worse.

Why do toddlers bite?

There are usually three reasons why a toddler may bite.

  1. The most common reason is frustration – Your toddler may be frustrated when a favourite toy is taken away or when he feels misunderstood. Instead of expression himself with words he lashes out and hits or bites.
  2. Sensory seeking behaviour – Proprioception or deep pressure is a highly regulating sense and certain little ones seek high levels of deep pressure and firm touch. These toddlers send to move quickly, be busy and seek to ‘crash’ or bump on the playground. When sedentary for too long, biting is an easy way to get strong proprioceptive input through the jaw.
  3. Worm infestations – There is some evidence that little ones with worms bite others – possibly due to the sensation of an itchy bum. It sounds weird but for what its worth, deworm your toddler.

Preventing biting

  • Watch how long your toddler socialises – when over stimulated, toddlers are more likely to bite.
  • Socialise your toddler when rested – watch his awake times.
  • Give him biltong or dried mango to chew – this is a great form of proprioceptive input for his jaw.
  • Offer your busy toddler more movement and physical activity to prevent him from seeking proprioception inappropriately.
  • If you can see a biting moment brewing, quickly intervene and say, “Use your words.” This encourages your little one to use words to express himself, instead of biting.

Dealing with it in the moment

  • The very first step is to respond with empathy to the victim. This not only is caring for the child in pain but also gives a clear message of rejection for the behaviour.
  • Then turn to your toddler and say: “We do NOT hurt or bite others. You have hurt Jenny. So you need to be alone” Place him immediately in a timeout space. The separation socially is an effective and appropriate punishment.