Last week a parent at one of our centres spoke to us about their child’s behaviour at home, he was starting to bite his siblings and she was understandably concerned about the behaviour continuing or even escalating to where he might bite others. Biting is probably one of the most common things parents ask us advice on.

Biting is an unfortunate but very common behaviour in young children usually peaking around the age of 2 but starting earlier for some children and going on later for others. First and foremost we wish to reassure parents that it is a very normal stage some children go through and the vast majority do grow out of it. In our centres all staff are trained in behaviour management including managing biting.  In this article we hope to give you an insight as to why your child may bite and also give some tips on how to manage this stage.

Why do children bite?

  • Expressing positive emotions: Young toddlers can bite as a way of showing love and affection.
  • Experimenting: They’re learning how their body works and are still very orally orientated which sometimes result in a bite. Toddlers can also bite when they’re over-excited and often don’t understand that it causes pain.
  • Defending themselves: Young children learn to bite as a defence. This is especially the case with children who are non-verbal or only have a few words.
  • To gain control: Some children realise that biting is a way of getting other children (or their parents) to do what they want. They don’t always do it consciously but biting can be a easy way to get attention.
  • Frustration or irritation:  Biting can be the physical expression of an emotion they can’t articulate. Whether it’s to do with sharing, being hungry or changes at home, biting can be a result of this frustration.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulation can result in biting.

Here are some ideas on how to manage this behaviour

  • Intervene and redirect: Children often clench their teeth before they bite. If you see this happen, move your child away from the situation, preferably somewhere quiet, to calm down.
  • Make them aware this is not desirable behaviour: When your child bites, use simple but firm words. Try saying “Stop, that hurts” “Look at how sad your brother is, he is hurt from your bite” “Stop, Biting hurts” “it hurts when you bite” “we bite our food, not people” Always remember though to keep it short and simple and appropriate to the age of the child. Ensure you are very positive and use a lot of praise when the child uses alternative behaviours.
  • Role modelling appropriate behaviour and talking about positive behaviours can be helpful.
  • Teach them to express themselves: When things have calmed down, try to help your child find a more appropriate way to express their feelings. If she’s expressing love, teach her to hug rather than bite when she feels strong emotions. If she bites out of defence, show her how to tell someone she doesn’t want them too close by making a “stop” gesture.  Alternatively teach her to come and find you instead if she’s angry.
  • Reduce the effectiveness: When children bite to get attention, dealing with it is trickier. After the response, don’t try to continue to reason or explain. Give a firm “no biting”, then put yourself between the victim and biter, with your back to the biter. Give the victim sympathy and the biter a clear message that this is an unproductive way of getting attention.
  • Praise for good behaviour: When your child is behaving well be generous with praise. Be specific, e.g. “well done, I love how you used your words to tell your sister you wanted a turn”.
  • Let us know, if your child has been biting at home, playgroup or somewhere else let us know. It will help us to manage the behaviour and be more able to quickly intervene in situations where a bit may occur. Knowledge is power.

If you would like more information on biting and how to manage it, please see the links below or speak to one of the educators at your Little Miracles centre.

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/pinching,_biting_and_hair_pulling.html

http://www.parenting.sa.gov.au/pegs/peg31.pdf