Young children bite for a variety of reasons. No matter what the cause, it’s important to establish a zero-tolerance culture for biting.
Having a child that sinks their teeth into the flesh of other children is enough to make even the most open-minded parent run for the hills. While it’s embarrassing, and certainly needs to be nipped in the bud, biting is actually a normal part of childhood development.
How to stop your child from biting
Understanding the reasons why a child bites are key to beating the problem. Not all children bite out of anger or hurt another child, In fact, young toddlers can’t really understand how much pain they are causing.
“The first step to stopping the habit is to find out the reason why your child is biting. You must ask yourself: what is my child is achieving by biting?” says Lyn Fry, an educational psychologist. “Look at who they bite, when they bite, and in what situations.”
Reasons children bite
A way of showing emotion
Oddly enough, young toddlers can bite as a way of showing love. “Toddlers have really intense feelings but don’t know how to show them,” says Dirk Flower, chartered psychologist. “Biting can be a way of expressing their feelings.”
Learning how their body works
Toddlers are learning how their body works. They sometimes put things in their mouths and sometimes bit down. It’s impulsive and they don’t mean to cause pain. Often, a baby chomps on someone when teething. Sometimes toddlers nip when they’re over-excited.
Establishing a safety zone
Young children learn to bite as a defence, especially if they can’t talk. Sometimes changes or upsets at home can bring on this type of biting. These children are trying to establish a safety zone. When you bite, your victim moves away. It’s a great defence.
Some children know biting is a way of getting other children or their parents to do what they want. They don’t always do this consciously. It may happen when a group of children are jostling to be leader. Sometimes the youngest child in the family bites to gain power and attention.
Frustrated or irritated
Your child wants a toy back. Or they want a biscuit or adult attention, or can’t cope with a situation. They may not understand turn-taking and sharing. Or things may have changed at home or the child feels under stress. Your child doesn’t necessarily mean to cause harm, but just can’t find the words to express themselves.
How to stop it
- In all instances, react swiftly, and keep your cool. Don’t ever bite back or hit as retaliation could be dangerous. You’re just teaching them violence causes violence.
- Look at how intense, how frequent bites are, and what the triggers are. One of the best ways is to act before your child has a chance to sink their teeth into anyone.
- Plan in advance for their behaviour. Children often clench their teeth before they bite, so look out for this unmistakable sign. Take the child somewhere quiet to calm down.
- Distraction works wonders with kids this age. If emotions and energy levels are running high or if boredom has set in, help redirect a little one’s attention to a more positive activity, like dancing to music, coloring, or playing a game.
- If a teething child is trying out his or her teeth, find toys to chew and chomp on.
- When your child bites, use simple but firm words. Explain that it hurts others and why you don’t like them doing it.
- Give the victim sympathy and the biter a clear message this is an unproductive way of getting attention. If time-out is one of your methods, now is the time to use it. If the bite was over a toy or treat, remove it for a short while.