Toddler Milestones: How to Handle Biting

Sometimes you watch your child reach a milestone, and sometimes you reach it with them. We typically think of milestones as special, moving moments, like handing over the car keys for the first time or making a speech at your son or daughter’s wedding. But not every milestone is the stuff of fond remembrance. Take the milestone I recently experienced with my son Bennett: the first time your child bites.

It all started when Bennett was bitten at school. This is really not that uncommon among 2-year-olds, and in the grand scheme of things, is not a huge deal. But I still felt as though someone had bitten me, too.

Soon my imagination was running wild. Is Bennett disliked by one (or more) of his classmates? Will he be afraid to go to school tomorrow? What are we going to do if he starts associating school with getting hurt?

Was I jumping to conclusions? Guilty as charged. And sure enough, after inspecting the “damage,” I realized he was fine. After a while, I became more relaxed about the whole thing.

Then one day it all went topsy-turvy. My wife called to tell me that Bennett bit another child. Soon enough, we were getting regular reports of biting at school, and Bennett was the culprit every time.

This continued for about three weeks. For the first time since he was born, it felt like Bennett was drifting off course. What was I supposed to make of this? More importantly, what was I supposed to do about it? Bennett didn’t bite family members and he didn’t hit either. Yet he bit other kids at school. Had I missed something obvious?

Getting through the biting milestone was a group effort. We started requesting and receiving help from all sources. After asking around for advice, putting Bennett’s teachers and grandmothers on alert to give him reminders, and reading Teeth Are Not for Biting nightly, we tried to better understand what was really causing Bennett to bite.

My wife and I took a look at the timeline when the biting had occurred and identified two possible factors: (a) Bennett’s bedtime fluctuated some and (b) we could have done a better job of encouraging him to use his words when he got frustrated or upset. With this in mind, we started to take action: 

  • We began making a real effort to take every opportunity to coach Bennett in the course of our daily lives. Every moment spent with him is a teaching moment.
  • We became better about asking Bennett to use his words when he gets upset and waiting for him to tell us what’s wrong before taking action.
  • We started suggesting alternatives to chucking things when he gets angry.
  • And, maybe the biggest change we made was tightening up Bennett’s bedtime routine. We now plan ahead to make sure Bennett is in bed between 7-7:30 p.m., giving him between 10 and 11 hours of solid sleep time.

Bennett hasn’t bitten anyone for almost a month now and it feels like a real triumph. It looks like we’re going to come out on the other side of the biting milestone unscathed afterall.

How did you get past a difficult milestone with your child? Did you learn anything about your child – or yourself – along the way? For additional information on biting behavior and how to address it with your child, visit the ZERO TO THREE website.