21 months old bites others for no reason

Biting at the age of 21months

Hi, it’s Eva and this is the Wonder Toddlers Podcast for parents and early years teachers. Today we are going to talk about biting!

I reply to a mother who is worrying about her daughter’s behaviour (21months) as her little one bites at home and at the nursery she attends. The bitings seem to happen for no reason, sometimes even twice a day.

Listen to my podcast or read the letter and my advice below.


The letter:

*DD means dear daughter

DD is 21months and at nursery full time and she is a biter. She started off by biting when I breastfed her (stopped at 16 months) and every now and again she seems to become giddy and bites whoever she's sat with (me, her dad, older DD, etc). Unfortunately she's now biting kids at nursery. Not all the time or every day. Sometimes she'll go weeks without doing it and then there'll be a day like today when she's bit 2 kids for no identifiable reason.

How do I stop this? If she does it at home I will move her away from whoever she has bitten and firmly say no biting it hurts. More recently she's started showing us if she has hurt herself and will point and say ow so I've also started doing the same back and pointing where she bitten and saying ow with a sad face. I'm hoping she'll make the connection that she's hurt me.

Has anyone else had a biter? What helped? Is there anything else I can do? The shame of being told about incidents at nursery pickup is awful! How long till she gets over this?

What are the reasons for biting?

I used to work as an early years teacher, and I always had a "biter" or two in my class. I guess every class has at least one child who bites occasionally.

Biting is pretty normal at this age, and there is nothing to worry about or to be ashamed of. This unpleasant phase usually stops when they develop and improve their language and communication skills, along with their problem-solving skills, sometimes around the age of 3 and 4.

It might seem like there is no reason for your children to bite, but there is always a reason 😀
Some examples:

- Getting attention
- Acting in self-defence
- Exploring cause and effect (What is going to happen when I bite?)
- Experiencing the feeling of biting
- Can’t express her feelings, thoughts
- Feeling strong and in control

In most cases, our "biters" bit or wanted to bite when they were in such a situation that they couldn't express themselves with words. For example, when their peers snatched their toys, the easiest and quickest reaction was to bite.

What to do when children bite?

We observed the child, who bit. We wrote down everything what we thought could be important such as the place where the biting happened, the time when it occurred, the children who got involved, the possible reasons why it could happen and how the child who bit acted before and after the bite.

We also had meetings with the parents and created a plan that we both followed through. All children who were once "biters" eventually stopped biting, and for that to happen, we had to be patient and consistent.

8 tips to stop toddlers from biting

1. Be consistent

When your children want to bite or have already bit someone, step in and explain to your children why it is not good behaviour and what they should do instead. You have to do this whenever you see your children in this situation.

2. Help your child to improve her communication skills and offer acceptable ways to express herself.

Sometimes, children don't need to use words to express themselves.  There are situations when shaking our head, or a gentle touch is enough. For example, when children are lining up, and your child gets pushed, she/he can step out of the line or go behind someone else.

3. Encourage your child to use her/his words.

Encourage your children to use their words instead of their teeth. You can say: "Use your words. What is the problem? Tell your friend." or "Use your words. Tell your friend what you would like." Repeat it every time when you see that your child is ready to bite.


4. Support your child’s positive behaviour choices by acknowledging those.

When your children do something good, acknowledge that behaviour by praising them with your words, for example: “Well done. You wanted to play with the trains, so you used your words to ask your friend to give them to you.”

5. Try to prevent future bitings.

It is worth to stay close to prevent future bitings so that you can step in before the bite happens.
Then ask your child what’s the matter and how you could help her/him. Remind her/him that biting is not a good behaviour choice and give your child some options what she/he could do instead.

6. Be firm and use short sentences.

If your child bites, be firm and explain her/him using short sentences, what happened and that the person she/he bit is in pain. Offer her/him choices what she can do now and next, for example, “You bit Amy. Amy doesn’t like it, she is crying because it hurts. How can we make Amy feel better? You can say sorry or/and give her a cuddle/bring her an ice pack etc.”

7. Imaginative play

This kind of play supports children's emotional development and improves their social skills. For instance, your children can pretend to be vets to help animals or doctors to help people/dollies so they will learn about how to take care of others, what to do in which situation and with your help and explanations, they will learn about other's feelings and thoughts.

8. Books about biting and positive behaviour choices.

Books are a fantastic and enjoyable source of knowledge for children as at this age they love listening to stories. Try to be as enthusiastic as you can while reading, change your voice, tone etc. to sound more interesting to really catch their attention. There are plenty of good books on biting, while you read them, ask your children's opinion or thoughts on what's happening and explain abstract concepts in a very simple way that they can easily grasp.

I've collected some books for you:

I truly believe that your children will pass this phase and there is nothing to worry about (that doesn't help at all, being stressed all the time is just a waste of energy anyway). Instead of that, keep doing what you think is right and take your children's teacher's advice if you think that would work.

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Hi, it's Eva and I am an Early Years and Parenting Consultant. Here, I am sharing my knowledge about child development and experience in teaching. Have a look around and follow me on SNS to keep in touch!

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