Biting is very common among young kids, although when you have a child who bites, it can be very frustrating for all involved. There are many reasons a child may bite, so understanding the reason is the beginning to changing his or her behavior.
Lesia Oesterreich, Human Sciences Extension Specialist at Iowa State University, shares the following reasons for why children bite and offers suggestions for prevention:
Why Children Bite
- Exploration - Young children learn through touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting. Once an infant is given a toy, one of the first places it goes is straight into the mouth; this is something all children do. Children at this age do not normally understand differences between gnawing on a toy and biting.
- Teething - Children normally begin teething around 4-7 months of age. Their gums may swell, causing discomfort, and they may find relief by chewing something. Many children at this age do not know the difference between chewing on a toy or a person.
- Cause and effect - Around 12 months of age, children begin to find out what happens when they do something. For example, if they bang a toy on the table it makes a sound, and they discover if they bite someone, they will get a sound of protest.
- Attention - Older toddlers may bite to get attention. Biting is a quick way to get noticed and be the center of attention.
- Imitation - When children see other children bite, they might try it themselves.
- Independence - Toddlers are trying to be independent and biting is a powerful way to control others. If you want a toy or someone to leave you alone, biting will help make that happen.
- Frustration - Children often experience frustration – growing up is a real struggle. They have trouble asking for things or requesting help. They have not learned how to play well with others and when you do not have the words to express your feelings, sometimes you will show others by pushing, hitting, or even biting.
- Stress - A child’s world can be stressful. Lack of routine, things to do, or even adult interaction can be a stressful situation. Events such as moving, a death in the family, or divorce can cause stress. Biting is a way the children can express feelings and relieve tension.
What can parents and caregivers do?
Always figure out the five questions: who, what, when, where and how to discover what is really happening.
- When does the biting occur?
- Who is involved?
- Where does it happen?
- What happens before and after the bite?
- How was the situation handled?
- If biting is occurring as a result of exploration or teething, provide the child an alternate way of soothing, such as a teething ring.
- If the child seems hungry or tired, look at your daily routine to be sure they are getting enough nutrition and sleep.
- If biting occurs when fighting over a toy, try having multiple toys, as very young children do not share well.
- If attention seems to be the reason for biting, try to give positive encouragement when you can and spend time with them when they are behaving appropriately.
- If the child is experiencing a stressful event, try being supportive and keep their routine as normal as possible.
Reference: Biting - Understanding Children Biting by Iowa State University, University Extension
Teach new behavior
- When biting occurs use your voice and facial expressions to show them that biting is not okay. Be calm and firm.
- Comfort the victim. Give attention to the one that was bitten and take any necessary first aid steps if needed.
- Comfort the biter, if needed. Sometimes toddlers do not understand that biting hurts, so it is okay to comfort a child whose feeling upset about hurting someone. If the biter uses biting to get attention, you do not want to reinforce this behavior by giving comfort and attention.
- Offer alternatives. When things calm down, help them learn ways to communicate with others.
- Redirect, sometimes distractions work with toddlers. When emotions are running high or children seem bored, help redirect their attention to more positive activities.
- Be consistent.
Reference: Biting by Lauren M. O'Donnell, PsyD
Biting is a difficult time and not easy to deal with in any setting. If your child is the victim, you might feel angry. If your child is the biter, you might feel embarrassed or frustrated. If you are the caregiver, you might feel frustrated and uncomfortable being pulled in between two families.
Remember biting happens and most toddlers who bite, only do so for a short period of time. Pay attention to the five questions and that can help you find suggestions for solutions.
children who bite