There is something inherently shocking about biting. It feels aggressive or almost animalistic. In reality, though, biting is no different than hitting when it comes to toddler behavior. It is a physical way to express big emotions when children often don’t have the words to do so.

But how should you respond?

Dealing with biting can be a bit of a tricky balance. We don’t want to give the behavior too much attention, which can, of course, encourage the toddler to continue. We also can’t ignore behavior that can actually hurt people.

Here are seven ways Montessori teachers respond when a child bites:

1. Focus your attention on the child who was bitten.

When your child bites another child, you don’t want to give your little one a lot of attention. Instead, drive home that biting is a big deal and that it hurts people. To do this, always check on the child who was hurt first. Make a huge deal out of making sure they’re okay.

If it’s your child or a child you know, wash the bite mark, offer hugs, offer a drink of water or an ice pack. If it’s a child you don’t know, verbally check on the child and ask their parents if there’s anything you can do to help them feel better. If your child is capable of helping, enlist their help in caring for the hurt child.

Remember, toddlers find it fascinating when their behavior elicits a huge reaction from us, and will likely try to replicate it out of curiosity.

2. Closely monitor your little one.

It is always better, both for your child and their friends, to prevent biting whenever possible. As hard as it is, this likely means you’ll need to shadow your child during this phase. If your child bites anyway, despite having you close by, calmly remove them from the situation. It can feel discouraging to leave the park or a playdate but know that the biting stage is usually short-lived.

3. Pay attention to timing.

Does your child bite when they’re tired? Do they bite when they’re hungry? Do they bite during transitions? Observe when the behavior is occurring so that you can work to prevent it.

Try keeping a little log somewhere accessible, like on your phone, noting the time and any other context that might be useful whenever your child bites. You will likely notice trends.

4. Offer something to bite.

Sometimes toddlers bite because they can’t yet process or verbalize their big emotions, but sometimes they simply bite for the physical sensation.

If you think this might be the case, offer your child something safe and appropriate to bite. This could be a snack or a teething ring. Say something like, “I see you want to bite. You may not bite people, but here is something you can bite.”

5. Decode feelings.

If you notice that your child bites when they’re angry or frustrated or upset, help them name their feelings. You might say, “You were so frustrated that Billy took your shovel,” or, “You didn’t want to take a potty break. That made you mad.”

Simply hearing that you understand what they are feeling will often help a child calm down enough to fight the impulse to bite.

6. Calmly state expectations.

It is so tempting to give a long lecture about why biting is not okay and to demand the reason why a child chose to bite.This is often ineffective for several reasons.

First, toddlers are not choosing to bite. They are acting on impulse, and they do not know why they bit someone. They need to learn to control the impulse, but a lecture won’t help them do that.

Second, if this is an ongoing behavior, your toddler has likely heard your reasons for not wanting them to bite many, many times. They know the reasoning, they just need practice following through with your expectations.

Lastly, young toddlers can usually only process very short commands. The fewer words the better. They will be overwhelmed by a long lecture and will likely tune out.

Instead, say something simple and non-judgmental like, “I won’t let you bite. That hurts people.” This sends the message that the behavior is not okay, without giving a big reaction.

7. Practice problem solving.

Toddlers often need help finding the words to solve problems verbally rather than physically. Help your child learn how to ask for what they want without hurting someone, and how to make things right when they hurt someone.

If you see your child becoming upset by another child’s behavior, tell them, “You can say ‘stop’ if you don’t like that.” If another child takes your child’s toy and they are getting upset, tell them, “You can say ‘I’m not done with that.'”

Having a biting toddler can be a stressful behavior to deal with and it can make us feel like we’re doing something wrong. Know that while biting is jarring to watch, it is a totally normal toddler behavior. If you react calmly but firmly, your child will get the message that biting is not okay and will learn better strategies to use. Be confident Mama, you’ve got this.

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