February 24, 2015
Most parents are horrified when they receive a note sent home from day care that their child has bitten someone. Some of our own mothers and grandmother’s would advise us “Bite him back, then he won’t do it again, it worked with my kids”. As child development specialists we do not advocate biting a child back, since this only teaches a child that it is indeed okay to bite when they are angry. However, we can offer some other suggestions as to why biting behaviors occur and how to remedy them.
Toddlers bite for several reasons, many because they simply lack the language skills to tell someone “I am SO mad”, or “You are in my space”. They may also bite because they are over-tired, teething or have a need for extra oral stimulation. Some kids bite because they are over stimulated by a situation or overly excited. And, some may just do it to see what someone’s reaction is when they do it. The best way to understand biting is to find out which one of the above reasons led to the bite. From there parents and caregivers can start to work on ways to prevent future biting episodes by asking:
Next look for ways to intervene before your child bites. For example, if a child is biting due to the need for oral stimulation, offer him something appropriate to chew on such as food or a sensory chew tube. If a child is biting when others get too close, intervene by telling him “I know you don’t like when Stevie gets too close to you, use your words and tell him, do not touch my hair”. If your child is over-tired adjust his sleep schedule or avoid play dates when he is tired. If your child is teething offer a teething toy or cold washcloth to chew on. At other times you may be able to intervene simply with distraction and move the child elsewhere before too much frustration or anger sets in and leads to a bite.
When a child does bite here is what to do:
You can also read books about biting to toddlers such as:
Biting is a very common behavior for toddlers, however it usually stops by age 3 to 3 1/2. If your child continues to bite, or the number of bites increases instead of decreases over time, it is probably a good idea to request an assessment from a child development specialist. A child development specialist can help you identify the reason for the biting and develop a strategy for addressing the behavior. Remember, there is no quick fix for stopping any behavior. Over time, and with assistance, your child will stop biting and use more appropriate ways to express his/her needs, especially as language and socialization skills increase.
This post originally appeared on Early Intervention Support