Biting, A Normal Developmental Child Behavior

Biting is a normal part of childhood development. Yes, it is very upsetting for adults. Yes, it can be frightening for the child who bites. Yes, it is upsetting to the child that is bitten and yes, it makes adults angry, but biting is a normal part of childhood development.

Young children bite for various reasons ~ from teething to seeing what reaction it will provoke.

Countless children between the ages of 1 and 3 go through a biting phase, which they eventually outgrow.

Even though most children stop biting on their own and is a normal process of growth, biting is still something a parent wants to discourage.

Many children will go through a biting phase at some point. In toddlers, this phase is often due to teething, While in older children, it is sometimes deliberately aggressive. You may need to take action with some positive parenting techniques.

Why do children bite?

Children bite for a number of reasons – and most of them are not intentionally malicious.

  • They are in pain. When babies bite, typically it is because they are teething. They are just doing it to relieve the pain of their swollen, tender gums.
  • They are exploring their world. Very young children use their mouths to explore, just as they use their hands. Just about everything infants or toddlers pick up eventually winds up in their mouths. Children in this stage are not yet able to prevent themselves from biting the object of their interest.
  • They are looking for a reaction. Part of exploration is curiosity. Toddlers experiment to see what kind of reaction their actions will provoke. They will bite down on a friend or sibling to hear the surprised exclamation, not realizing how painful the experience is for that person.
  • They are craving attention. In older children, biting is just one of several poor choices used to get attention. When a child feels ignored, discipline is at least one way of getting noticed – even if the attention is negative rather than positive.
  • They are frustrated. Biting, like hitting, is a way for some children to assert themselves when they are still too young to express feelings effectively through using their words. To your child, biting is a way to get back a favorite toy, tell you that he or she is unhappy or let another child know that he or she wants to be left alone.

How to Stop Biting

Rather than having to stop a biting incident, practice prevention so that your child will be less likely to bite in the first place.

If your child is teething, do your best to have a cool teething ring or washcloth on hand so he or she will be less likely to sink teeth into someone’s arm. Frozen wet washcloths work great, as these also exfoliate the gums, assisting the teeth to break through.

Avoid situations in which your child can get irritable enough to bite. Make sure that all of your child’s needs – including eating and nap time – are kept on their normal schedule and taken care of before you go out to play.

Carry along a healthy snack to soothe your child if he or she gets cranky from being hungry.

As soon as your child is old enough, encourage the use of words (“I am not happy with you”, “I do not like that”, “That makes me sad”) instead of biting. Other ways to express frustration or anger include hugging a stuffed animal or punching a pillow, having a personal space or comfort zone.

Sometimes shortening activities or giving your child a break can help prevent the rising frustration that can lead to biting and other unappreciated behaviors.

Give your child enough of your personal time throughout the day (for example, by reading or playing together, one on one family time), so he or she does not bite just to get attention. Extra attention is especially important when your child is going through a major life change, such as a move or welcoming a baby sibling.

Even with your best prevention efforts, biting incidents will still occur. When your child bites, firmly let your child know that this behavior is not acceptable simply say, “No. We don’t bite! That is a poor choice and not okay.” Explain that biting hurts the other person. Then remove your child from the situation and give the child time to calm down or have them assist in the care of the bitten child by them offering a cool rag or ice so they know they did indeed hurt their friend and feel compassion for them.

You might have heard from other parents that if your child bites you, bite your child back. This is not good advice. Children learn by imitation. If you bite your child, the child is going to get the impression that this behavior is acceptable and he or she will be more likely to do it again. In their mind they are asking, “If mommy or daddy is biting me, why is it not a good choice?” The same example follows for hitting a child that is biting.

If biting gets a strong response, which is likely, they will see that it is successful and may try it again.

Feelings are very hard for young children to control. You might say something like, “You were very sad when Peter took your truck, but you must not bite him.” or “You wanted to play with the truck. If you feel sad, tell me and I will help you, but we don’t bite.”

Praise children for good choices. Compliment the child when he or she is playing well with others. This will help the child realize that you value and appreciate this kind of behavior. It will also help build the child’s self-esteem.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.