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How can I stop my toddler biting?

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Today, I wanted to touch base about biting. I met a mum recently whose two year old is a biter. Not only does she bite other children, but she also started biting mum.

Biting - a sensitive topic for parents

It’s a sensitive topic, isn’t it. Somehow, it seems that biting is a ‘worse’ behaviour, less socially acceptable than snatching, hitting, etc. So not only did this mum struggle with the actual behaviour, she was struggling with feeling ashamed of her little one’s behaviour. And, to top it all, she was in physical pain when she was bitten.

What Parenting tools had she already tried?

She’d tried the naughty step, telling her daughter off, walking away, and now her friend had suggested that she bit her daughter “that’s the only way she’ll learn, if she knows how much it hurts”..

At this point, she contacted me. She was worried that by doing nothing, the situation would just continue, but was sure that biting her daughter wasn’t going to solve it either.

Let's talk about Brain Development

So we talked, and I explained to her about brain development. From neuroscientists, we now understand about brain development. A two year old’s brain is immature. Two year old brains are full of emotions, and dominated by the bit of the brain that produces the reflexive responses to stress of fight, flight and freeze (When I am under stress, I either lash out, or if I can’t I run away, and if I can’t do either of those, I freeze – I can’t do or say anything, I’m rooted to the spot).

I also explained that I’d had both a biter and a bitee in my kids, and so we looked at the problem from both sides. As the mum of a bitee, seeing those puncture marks in my child’s soft skin was tough. In fact, when I picked my child up from daycare and first saw those marks, my brain also switched into fight/flight/freeze (more about the brain another week, I promise) and my mama bear instinct needed reining in.

Why do toddlers bite (or hit, or grab?)

Back to our two year old. Two year olds bite/hit/snatch because

  • Their brain is immature, and

  • they lack language skills to ask, and express their needs

Once the mum understood that her child’s behaviour was actually normal, we had already dealt with half of the problem, her guilt that she was a bad mum. Next we needed to tackle the behaviour, to bring some peace back into home and school.

Emotions are okay, not all behaviour is

So I suggested she sat down with her child and explained that

1. biting is not okay, and it hurts.

2. she was confident that as her daughter grew older, that she would stop biting.

Quote "what we focus on grows"

This is critical, we need to use encouragement to leverage change in our children’s lives. We know (Thank you Dr. Dan Siegel) that where we put our attention, will strengthen neural pathways (I should have warned you this was a science lesson, shouldn’t I!)

This isn’t a magic wand, change won’t happen overnight. Around age 5 or 6 the self control bit of our brain (pre-frontal cortex) should be in good control of our behaviour. So in the meantime, the other answers are

3. Supervision, supervision, supervision, and

4. watching for your child’s trigger points.

This little girl had just moved countries and was in a bilingual environment, so communication was obviously hard.

Biting can happen more when a child is

  • hungry or thirsty,

  • teething, or otherwise in pain, as well as when they are

  • frustrated (another child has taken a toy/they aren’t getting attention).

A combination of understanding her daughter’s trigger points and letting her know she believed in her significantly reduced the instances of biting for this family.

Next Steps

I can recommend Dan Siegel's Whole Brain Child if you want to know more about brain development.

If you want to delve deeper into these topics, then feel free to reach out to me. I offer a free 20 min call so you can understand more about how parent coaching works.

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