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What to do when your child bites?

Believe it or not, biting is actually a very common behavior, seen in children, and generally stops by the time your child turns 3 to 3 ½. Most children bite when they experience a challenge or have to fulfill a need. You might have noticed that your child might bite someone or something when they are frustrated, want to communicate the need for personal space, or are teething!

The best way you can respond to your child when they bite is by understanding what the underlying "trigger" for the biting is. This will help you become more successful in stopping this behavior altogether.

When exactly does your toddler bite?

Here are some scenarios or reasons why your toddler bites. Observe your toddler and try to identify what is happening in the moments before your toddler goes in for a bite!

Toddlers might bite if they:

  • Have a Lack of language skills that are necessary for communicating their needs and strong feelings they might have like anger, frustration, happiness. Biting may be a substitute for the messages they cannot yet express using words like " I am angry at you" or "I am so excited, I want to play with you!"

  • Are overwhelmed by the sounds, light, or activity level in the setting

  • Are experimenting to see what will happen or how you will react

  • Need more active playtime

  • Are over-tired

  • Are teething

  • Have a need for oral stimulation

If your toddler continues to bite past the age of 4, or the number of bites has increased instead of decreased over time, you may talk to your pediatrician or get an assessment from a child development specialist.

How to stop your child from biting or displaying any other aggressive behaviors.

The last thing you want as a parent is to have your child bite or hit another child. Wounds can get infected and in more serious instances, someone can get very hurt. It is important to monitor these behaviors. We understand that these behaviors can be triggering for parents as well, it is best to avoid the following;

Harshly punishing or shaming your child does not reduce undesirable behaviors instead, they escalate your child's fears which in turn lead to an increase in these undesirable behaviors. When you respond to your child aggressively, it does not teach your child any valuable social skills they need to manage the situations in which their undesirable behavior is triggered.

Hitting or Biting your child back is NOT a useful response. There is no evidence to suggest that beating or hurting your child, in the same exact way, will reduce the behavior. If this is your method of discipline, you have just taught your child that it is absolutely OK to hit or bite people when they do something to make them upset. As a parent, it is important to keep in mind, that hitting and biting constitute child abuse. The definition of child abuse is when a caregiver endangers a child's life. It is your job as a parent to model appropriate responses to situations.

Remember that your child's brain is still developing and they are looking to you to learn how to react appropriately. Would you hit your boss if they made you upset? Would you bite the waiter that got your order wrong?

Useful Strategies to Prevent Biting

Here are some appropriate and far more effective strategies you can use when you see the signs that your child might be on the verge of biting:

1. Distract your child with a toy or book. When you do this, you shift your child's attention to something else. It sends the message that this behavior (biting) doesn't result in getting more attention (a big reaction).

2. Suggest how your child might handle the situation that is triggering the need to bite. If you think your child might be biting due to a need for oral stimulation, give your child something they can safely bite and chew—a cracker, carrot sticks, or a teether.

3. Teaching how to share. If you think your child is biting because they are struggling to express themselves especially in a Play setting, teaching them skills like turn-taking can help reduce the behavior, the same goes for other behaviors such as hitting, kicking, shouting, or screaming. Use a timer to give your child a visual reminder of how long they can each play with a particular toy.

In a group caregiving setting, you will want to make sure that the playroom itself has more than one of the popular toys. Incidentally, sharing is one of the most common triggers for biting.

4. Reading books about biting can also help. Books are a great way to teach children a lot of things. There are many books about biting, hitting, and other behaviors. When you read, you can ask your child how they think the different characters might be feeling. It's very useful to label these feelings and emotions. If you have an older toddler, you can ask him to “read” the book to you, by telling you what is happening based on the pictures.

Your child is making sense of the world around them. They are highly influenced by you (the parent) and their peers. They are very impressionable and may even copy what they see on TV. This is why it's very important for you to curate their experiences in a way that encourages pro-social behaviors.

If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to schedule a complimentary consultation today or take our quiz!

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