Biting is very common among young children for all types of reasons. Most parents find it frustrating, and they want it to stop—quickly! Understanding why young children bite is the first step in preventing biting, as well as teaching children alternatives to biting. This is a list of the most common reasons for biting and solutions for handling each of them.
The Experimental Biter: It is not uncommon for infants and toddlers to explore their world, including people, by biting. Infants and toddlers place many items in their mouths to learn more about them. Teach children that some things can be bitten, like toys and food, and some things cannot be bitten, like people and animals.
The Teething Biter: Infants and toddlers experience a lot of discomfort when they’re teething. A natural response is to apply pressure to their gums by biting on things. It is not unusual for a teething child to bear down on a person’s shoulder or elsewhere to relieve some of their teething pain. Provide appropriate items for children to teethe on like frozen bagels, teething biscuits, or teething rings.
The Social Biter: Many times children will bite when they are trying to interact with another child. These young children have not yet developed social skills to indicate “Hi, I want to play with you.” So, sometimes they approach a friend with a bite to say hello. Watch young children very closely to assist them in positive interactions with their friends.
The Frustrated Biter: Young children are often confronted with situations that are frustrating, like when a friend takes their toy, or when a parent is unable to respond to their needs as quickly as they would like. These toddlers lack the social and emotional skills to cope with their feelings in an acceptable way. They also lack the language skills to communicate their feelings. At these times, it is not unusual for toddlers to attempt to deal with their frustration by biting whoever is nearby. Notice when a child is struggling with frustration and be ready to quickly intervene. Provide words for children to help them learn how to express their feelings, like “That’s mine!” or “No! Don’t push me!”
The Threatened Biter: Some young children bite as self-defense when they feel threatened. Biting is a way to try to gain a sense of control over their lives, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed by their environment or events in their lives. Provide toddlers with nurturing support to help them understand that both they and their possessions are safe.
The Attention-Seeking Biter: Children love attention, especially from adults. When parents or caregivers give lots of attention for negative behavior, such as biting, children learn that biting is a good way to get attention. Provide lots of positive attention for young children each day, and minimize negative attention to behaviors such as biting.
The Imitative Biter: Imitation is one of the many ways young children learn. It is not unusual for children to try it out after they have watched a friend bite. Offer children many examples of loving, kind behavior. Never bite a child to demonstrate how it feels to be bitten.
The Power Biter: Toddlers have a strong need for independence and control. Very often the response children get from biting helps to satisfy this need. Provide many opportunities for children to make simple choices throughout the day. This will help them feel the sense of control they need. Reinforce children’s attempts at positive social behavior each day.
As with almost all potentially harmful situations involving our children, prevention is the key. As adults, we must be active observers of children to prevent biting. In those times when close supervision doesn’t work, intervene as quickly and as calmly as possible to let the biter know that biting is not okay. Let them know in a firm voice, “That hurts. No biting!” and remove the biter from the situation. Then, turn your attention to the child (or person) that has been bitten.
Jane Greminger is the director of Nokomis Child Care Centers, a program of The Village Family Service Center.
Filed Under: Parenting
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