One of the most concerning behaviors children exhibit during the toddler and two-year-old stages of development is biting. The child development professionals at Celebree Learning Centers provide information to help parents understand the reasons why a child bites and how they can help to reduce the behavior.
Children often bite for a variety of reasons. This behavior can be a way of expressing an emotion that a child does not know how to properly convey, such as anger, frustration, confusion or even positive emotions such as joy. Similarly, a toddler could be feeling overwhelmed, feeling over-tired or even experiencing hunger. Young children are not always able to express emotions, wants or needs adequately with words, so they often rely on their bodies to communicate the message, which can result in biting.
Toddlerhood is an experimental stage of a child’s development, as they are learning for the first time how to interact with the world around them. Your child might be biting as a way of experimenting in order to see how others will react. When confronted with a biting situation, there are specific questions that you should ask yourself:
- What was the situation surrounding the biting behavior?
- Is there one toy that your child consistently bites over?
- Who was your child playing with?
- Does your child always bite the same person?
- What time of day did the biting taking place?
- Who was caring for your child at the time of the bite?
- After the bite takes place, what does your child do?
Evaluate your child’s behavior based on the core reasons as to why the bite could have taken place. What could have changed to prevent your child from feeling the need to bite? Once you have assessed these factors, begin to make a plan for how to respond to this behavior in the future, thus reducing the occurrence.
When the bite happens:
First, ensure that the child who was bitten is not seriously injured and any first aid is given. Then, have the child who bit reflect on the impact of their behavior with your verbal coaching. You can say “Biting hurt. Look how sad___is.” Tell the child they must use words and provide those words for them. If the perceived reason for the bite is out of anger, jealousy or annoyance, explain that hurting another is not the proper way to express those emotions.
If the bite was an expression of a positive emotion, such as love or adoration, it is important to explain that while it is good to love others, we need to express our love in an appropriate and not hurtful way. Provide them opportunity to practice the helpful behavior, such as a gentle hug. Gently move the children onto a new activity so they can be involved in something immersive and exciting. This will help to reinforce that such behaviors do not merit prolonged attention.
Please note: While some parents have encouraged gently biting a child back as a means of preventing future incidents, this is not an appropriate manner of handling such a situation. Evidence shows that children of this age learn by imitation and such a response can encourage future biting incidents.
Ways to avoid biting:
You can avoid biting by using distractions. Toys, games, books and a change of scenery are all methods of adjusting your child’s focus. You can also have your child participate in group activities instead of free play so that they engage in a more hands-on experience. If you believe the biting is a result of physical habit, provide alternatives for oral stimulation such as a teether, carrot stick, or cracker for more appropriate biting. Be sure not to shame or punish your child as this response may result in more biting incidents.
Don’t forget to praise your child’s helpful behavior. When you see your child handling situations appropriately, be sure to encourage them. When they share with friends, provide them with words to use to reinforce and express their wants or needs. Communicate that you are proud of them for these behaviors. Just as our children need to be told when they are making hurtful choices, they need to be told when they are making a helpful choice.
For more information on biting behaviors, contact the child development professionals at Celebree Learning Centers today.