Dealing with Toddler Biting: Steps and Protocols for Parents and Teachers

We are often asked about what to do about a little one who is biting frequently. It is usually the parent of the biter who flags it because there is nothing worse than feeling like your little one is being labelled a bully. It is worth noting that biting is relatively common in toddlers and most outgrow it quickly by 3 years old.

Babies and toddlers may bite for many reasons – it may be health reasons, such as teething or simply exploration. As they get older, it may be due to frustration or attention seeking behavior. With all this in mind, these are the steps and protocols that Play Sense follows for two to three year olds:

Firstly, do not label the child negatively. It is not helpful to label a child as naughty or bad. It is the behavior we want to discourage, not the child.

Secondly, start with the organic – occasionally biting may be linked to a worm infestation. Little pin worm infestations are very common in all toddlers and so it is worth deworming the child.

Of course, prevention is always better than cure, so try to help the little one deal with frustrations and irritations in another way. Pay the toddler extra attention if there is an unsettling change in his/her life, such as a new baby, house move or mom starting work.

If a little one does bite another child, we want to look at his or her state before the incident. Many times, biting happens when a toddler is overtired or overstimulated. In these cases, try to preempt the behaviour by observing state immediately prior and responding – for instance if the little one has just started Play Sense and by 11am is exhausted because of the long and stimulating morning, try to preempt the behavior by offering a down time in the tent to calm down. Observing signals is so important which is why the ratio of teacher to child is 1 to 6. In this way, the teacher is more likely to take note of each child’s state.

Take into account sensory temperament – some little social butterflies are so engaging and seeking of sensory input that they themselves become overstimulated and may bite in this state. Social butterflies also tend to seek proprioceptive input and as they bite their friend they receive the pleasure input of deep pressure around the jaw. Giving a proprioceptive seeker heavy work  you can help prevent this sensory seeking behavior.

Finally, manage the behavior with behavior modification techniques as follows:

  1. Attend immediately to the victim – come between the victim and the biter and lavish the victim with attention, which validates him and makes the biter feel the rejection of the behavior.
  2. Once the victim is consoled. Turn to the biter and firmly say: “We do not bite our friends ever. Its sore for ….” Then quickly move on.
  3. If this is a repeated behavior, then you need to look at a consequence, such as social isolation for a minute or two. “If you do that again, you will go to the Peace cushion.” And then follow through. If it ever happens again, remove the biter from the group, which is a punishment most toddlers will not love.

Try to ensure that the way it is managed is the same at home as at school.

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