Many children go through a stage where they bite people and other children. The first thing to understand is that this is a normal developmental stage for many infants and toddlers. Just like every child is different there are different reason and conditions that cause your child to bite.
WHY DO CHILDREN BITE?
Everything goes into an infant’s mouth, it’s part of how they learn about their world around them. Infants are also teething and biting may relieve some of the discomfort.
Young toddlers may not have the language skills to communicate when they feel emotions. Toddlers go through a range of emotions and may not be able to make you understand, or even understand themselves, how they are feeling. Some emotions a toddler may be feeling are anger, frustration, sadness, love, stress, and excitement. Biting for a toddler can be a way for them to communicate their feelings and a way to control others.
Let’s look at some of these emotions and see how they can affect a toddler:
· Anger and frustration– A toddler has not yet learned to share, or self- control. If a person or other child stands between them and the object they want, they may resort to biting as a way of communicating their emotion. The toddler can get angry and frustrated because they don’t have the language skills to make you understand what they want or need.
· Sadness or excitement – Are two emotions that can overwhelm a toddler. They may bite as a way to express these emotions.
· Love – It may seem strange to suggest that a child will bite or hurt you out of love, but love is a very strong emotion.
Example: You are snuggling, kissing and hugging your child, and suddenly he takes a bite out of you. Because your child does not have the words to express the strong emotion they are feeling, they may express it in a physical way, by biting.
Stress - When a toddler becomes overtired or overwhelmed because there is a lot of confusion or activity going on around them, they can become stressed. A toddler can become stressed if they want your attention and you are busy. They may bite at these times as a way to communicate what they need or simply to get your attention.
Excitement - Occasionally, a toddler may become so excited to see a favorite person or do a favorite activity, that they cannot hold in their emotions and may bite simply from feeling overwhelming emotion. Remember they have not mastered the words or the social skill to properly convey their emotion.
If a child is still biting especially if their biting incidents are frequent, it may indicate another behavioral problem. (Greenman & Stonehouse, 1994)
HOW TO HANDLE BITING
Even though infants don’t understand the difference between biting a toy or your shoulder, you can still express your dismay at being bitten. Saying, ‘Ouch”, and telling the baby, “don’t bite”, begins to teach the baby their actions can cause a reaction.
Give the infant soft teething toys that the infant can easily handle and bite on to. When the infant is old enough, teething biscuits and cookies also help the infant handle any teething discomfort they may be feeling. (Whenever you give an infant any food to chew on you need to constantly supervise the infant to avoid choking.)
There are two important points to remember when dealing with a toddler who bites. The first is, try to protect as best you can the victim of the toddler’s biting. Also, we do not recommend that you bite the child back to show the child how it feels. This may confuse the child and make them feel that it is all right to bite.
What can you do? Here are some specific steps you can take to help your child learn not to bite.
Track when your child bites and who they bite. You may find there is a pattern to help you predict when they are going to bite.
When the toddler bites another child, tend to the victim’s needs first. Your toddler will learn that biting does not give them immediate attention.
Teach the child what they can do instead of biting.
For example: Instead of saying, “Don’t bite” you could say, “We use our words instead of biting”.
Give the child an alternative to biting.
For example: say to the child, “You can punch this pillow when you get angry, but you can’t bite. Biting hurts”.
It is difficult to expect toddlers to share. Redirect the child or get more than one of the same toy.
If you can determine when or why your child bites, put a plan into place to change the situation to break the pattern of biting.
For example: Your child bites at dinnertime when you are busy making the meal and other family members are coming home. You may be able to put together a late afternoon box filled with some puzzles or other favorite toys to keep the child busy while you are preparing the meal. You could also allow your child to help you with the preparation of the meal or setting the table.
In conclusion, make sure you are consistent. Whenever the child bites, use the same words that tell him/her that biting is wrong and hurts. If you have developed a plan to redirect the child during times you know he is apt to bite, stay consistent with your plan. Always tend to the victim first before turning your attention to the biter. Model caring and gentle behavior when dealing with the victim, you may even ask the child to help you soothe the victim.