Finger in mouthMy 19-month-old has started biting other children at daycare. He doesn't do this at home (he's an only child) so I'm not sure if he's simply mimicing other children at daycare. But I'm not sure how to handle this, and I think the daycare teacher isn't quite sure either

Biting – How to stop it

Biting certainly is one of those behaviours that are in the ‘must stop immediately’ category.  One question every parent asks themselves when their child bites is, ‘why’ are they doing this?  A good question and quite a common behaviour in this toddler age group.  Often biting happens  quite simply, out of frustration.  Your toddler doesn’t have the language skills to say to another child ‘ Stop it, you are hurting / annoying / bothering me!’  They become frustrated at another child or the situation they find themselves in and they bite.

When you havn’t seen any biting at home or at home in social situations they havn’t been around other children that bite, it is likely that they have seen ‘biting’ by another child at daycare and simply copied it.  We certainly learn behaviour by seeing and copying.

Now to stop this behaviour, firstly you need to know how often this is happening?  If it has only been once, twice or so over weeks, then it is very hard to anticipate, head off or distract your child with another activity.  The daycare staff certainly can, and I’m sure are aware and on the look out for a situation where your son may feel frustrated and more likely to bite.  As a result they can keep a closer eye on him and head it off when they see the emotion brewing.  This will certainly work.  So too does praising him and paying attention to when he is ‘coping well’ and playing gently or expressing his frustration in another way.

Having said this, sometimes, you can miss it, not see it happening, are just too busy to be able to watch and hover around.  If your son is now biting by ‘default’ – this is what I call a behaviour that worked the first few times and now is used, whenever they are slightly unhappy with something, or have found a new ‘game’, or has become frequent, then it is likely that not only is it an emotional ‘release of frustration’ but the sequence of events (usually adult attention, touch, talking, centre of attention) that happens immediately after actually ‘works’ for a child and they keep repeating the behaviour again and again and again.

Behaviour ‘works’ for a child, when the REACTION they get for doing it pays off for them.  By this I mean that they, BITE – adults around them, stop what they are doing, bend down, talk to them / explain or getting into trouble – either will work, touch them, make eye contact and they become the centre of attention – then their brain thinks hmmm…. I must REMEMBER to do that thing ‘biting’ again, it’s pretty worthwhile to me!!!  This is what I term, ‘working’ it is a big payoff with adult attention and maybe more than one adult when they ‘ bite ‘.

Explaining to a toddler again and again about ‘not biting, playing gently, saying no etc’  will have absolutely no affect in stopping this biting.  The only way to deal with this last situation is too actually remove your toddler completely from everyone.  This works really well in the daycare setting and is highly successful.

By removing your toddler, the best way to do so in daycare is to look at how the room is designed, ideally if the room is still using cots for sleeps this will be perfect.  Explain to your son’s room staff the above and that when he next bites or goes too ‘ ie. Mouth open, teeth ready and close to another child’ they are to do the following:  pick him up immediately and carry him away from everyone in a hold that is not a cuddle hold but arms outstretched and at a distance, face away from them (so that there is no eye contact) and immediately place him into a cot and walk away without a word or eye contact.  They are to wait until he stops crying or if not crying at all a good 5 minutes and then bring him back to the group.  When they go into pick him up and bring him back to the group, just to move on, smile, make eye contact, say ‘ are you ready to have a drink / join your friends / have afternoon tea?’ And continue as it is all over.

Usually about 3 times is all it takes for this to be effective as the social isolation and being removed from everyone is definitely not what a toddler wants, and they quickly link that their biting and being moved is – cause and affect – and will see this behaviour as ‘not worthwhile’ and soon stop using it.  Be sure also to praise coping well when frustrated whenever they or you see him doing so.

If this behaviour of ‘biting’ starts to happen at home then simply do exactly what I have outlined for daycare at home, use your cot or play pen if it means they are taken away from everyone and miss out – remember to start the few minutes, once the crying has stopped.  Again when all over simply walk into their room, arms outstretched a big smile and say ‘ are you ready to play with your friends’, some toddlers will need an extra cuddle on the way back to join everyone and this is fine and is just reassuring them.

Related Articles: 

The Behaviour Game

How to Stop Biting Behaviour

Kids & Behaviour 


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