Dear BabyShrink, My 16-month-old son just got kicked out of daycare for biting, a habit he picked up there! I’ve heard many different ways to stop the biting habit. Do you have any suggestions on what you’ve found that works best?
Amy in Louisville
I'm so sorry that your son's daycare hasn't found a better way of addressing this COMMON toddler behavior -- one that needn't be made into such a big deal.
Now, yes, I know that it is very upsetting to be on the receiving end of a bite, and even more so to be the parent of the "bite-ee", but we have to look at this as normal toddler exploratory behavior. Babies at this age still get a lot of their information about the world through their mouths. Plus, they’re often teething, and they’re not the greatest at explaining their wants and needs. So a bite now and then is really understandable. Some toddlers even bite to convey their love and affection for someone! Modifying the environment usually does the trick in minimizing biting.
First, give care and attention to the "bite-ee" IF he/she is upset, and certainly if the skin is broken. But if the child isn't upset, don't make a big deal out of it (you don't want to unnecessarily reinforce the biting). DO show the biter what to do instead. "We don't bite people, but you CAN bite this special toy! This is YOURS to bite!" (Click HERE to see a photo of the kind of chewie things that Early Intervention specialists use for toddlers; we have one at home. It's a little different than what you get at the regular baby store. They're nearly indestructible, and they're fun to chew.)
Analyze what came before the bite. Was the child tired? Overstimulated? Teething? Take care of THOSE issues first, and you should see a reduction in biting.
At home, be unemotional about biting, but firm. "No biting. If you want to bite, bite this instead." If he bites you, say, without reacting TOO strongly, "Ouch. That hurt. No biting. Here's your bite toy." And then move on. If you have to be a broken record, do so -- you might have to for awhile. But he will eventually stop.
Maybe moving to a new daycare is not for the worst thing in the long run. Toddlers need and deserve daycare settings that know how to handle this, and other annoying (but normal!!) toddler behaviors, without making the kids look like little monsters. Try to find a new daycare that has established approaches that work with biting; you don't want a place that is scared off by a little chomping.
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink