Biting: What causes it and How to Stop it

It is a parental shame that many will be familiar with. One minute you are happily chatting to another parent whilst your children delightfully play. The next, you are banished to play date exile after your toddler sinks their teeth into their unsuspecting friend.

Although it is a challenging stage, biting is a common occurrence in child development. It can be a result of frustration, anger and confusion or it can simply be a way of exploring their environment. Biting is not normally a cause for concern, but it can be a tricky phase to deal with.

Why do young children bite?

Babies use their mouths and hands to explore the world around them. This sensory exploration is a normal and important part of their development. As they approach 6-12 months this will move on to the discovery of cause and effect. If I push that tower of bricks over, will it fall? If I bite mummy, will she be cross? Babies are keen learners. They will be watching for your reaction to judge whether this behaviour is acceptable or not.

Teething is also a common reason for babies to bite. Babies will often chew on objects for relief and this can also result in biting.

As they approach toddlerhood, children are experiencing a whole range of emotions without the skill of speech to express them clearly. Biting, similar to tantrums, can become a way of expressing how they feel. For example, a child that has a toy snatched from them, will not have the words or the negotiation skills to claim it back. Frustration and anger may lead to them biting another child. Other reasons can be:

  • Tiredness
  • Boredom
  • Excitement and over stimulation
  • Attention

Once they are 3 years old, this habit usually stops as they become better at verbalising their emotions.

What can you do to stop it?

There are several methods that you can use to put a stop to biting:

  1. Establish the trigger

Look for the trigger that causes your child to lash out. For example, if you find that your child is more prone to biting others when they are tired, ensure that they are well rested before any play dates or big outings.

  • Distraction

If you can see that your child is about to bite, take them away from the situation and distract them with another activity. Choosing a book to read together can be a great way of stepping back and calming them down.

  • Sympathise with the victim

Focus on the victim. Consoling the other child sends a message that not only is the behaviour wrong, it does not lead to extra attention.

  • Teach them how to deal with their emotions

Start teaching your child how to deal with difficult altercations. For example, if another child is pushing, arm them with the actions to help. A hand up and a loud ‘no’ can be a lot more effective than a bite.

  • Make them feel secure

If biting is happening because they are overwhelmed and angry, take the time to show your child that you understand that they are feeling this way. A cuddle in a moment of anger can reassure them and help them feel secure.

  • Compliment the good

If you see your child sharing and playing well with another, praise them. This will show them that they can gain attention by being kind.

Most importantly, don’t worry. It is unlikely that your child will be biting when they start school, and they will soon learn how to verbalise their needs. If the behaviour persists as they grow older, reach out to a healthcare professional. There are many ways that they can work with your child to discover the cause, and give them the correct guidance.

Karen Olney

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