Why do children bite? Biting is a phase of child development. Babies bite when they are teething to relieve gum pain. Toddlers use their mouths to explore the world.
Why do children bite others? It may be due to frustration or to get instant attention. Biting a person gets an intense reaction. Parents need to discourage biting at an early age by saying, “Please use your words to tell me when you feel mad. Teeth are not for biting.” Parents can tell the biting child, “Ouch that hurts me.”
Do not bite your child back or tell another child to bite him back. You are teaching him that retaliation is acceptable. This negative tactic encourages biting as a way to solve problems. Do not smack his mouth as this reinforces physical force as suitable.
But, what does a parent do when the toddler continues to bite others? Be proactive instead of reactive. Sharing toys can be a trigger for biting, especially if there’s only one of the favorite toy. Talk about sharing and biting before a play activity with others. Use puppets to act out scenarios about a biting child. The parent can say, “We bite food not people.” Teach empathy for the puppet who is bitten. I recommend the children’s book, Teeth Are Not for Biting, by Elizabeth Verdick.
Provide constant supervision for a biting child when she is playing with others. Be ready to intervene. Parents can use a firm voice, “No biting. It hurts.” Remove her immediately and leave the area. Express empathy for the child who was bitten. Whether you’re at home or a friend’s house the play activity needs to be ended. The child learns that if she bites she does not play with others. Work on discouraging biting before the next play date.
Learn your child’s biting triggers so you can prevent and intervene. Does she only bite a certain child? Does she have a favorite toy that can be put away around other children? Yes, we need to teach children to share, but if a child attaches strong meaning to a specific toy then it’s okay to put it away during the play.
My child is biting at daycare. What can I do? Cooperate with the staff and apologize to parents. Tell your child firmly, “Biting hurts. No biting. I don’t like it when you bite other kids.” But, do not label any child as “the biter.” Explore the purpose of his biting behavior. Is he biting when another child grabs the toy from him? Teach him to be assertive by saying, “I am playing with the truck now.” Teach him to walk away and talk to the caretaker instead of biting. Create a chart and reward him with stickers for not biting when you pick him up from daycare. Extrinsic rewards combined with intrinsic rewards are suggested. Praise him for the desired behavior.
What if a child is biting himself? A parent can say, “Ouch, biting yourself hurts. Tell me when you feel mad. I’ll help you.” Observe your child when he is not biting himself, “I like it when you don’t bite yourself. Teeth are for biting carrots and apples.” Children want their parent’s approval. You may say, “I feel sad when you bite yourself. I don’t like it.” Screaming at a toddler is not appropriate. He learns that adults can scream but he cannot scream back. As a result, he may begin to scream at his baby brother or the family pet.
If a child continues to bite despite your interventions, a visit to a child therapist is suggested.
Dr. Missy, Ph.D., is a feelings helper, child therapist, consultant, educator, and self-syndicated columnist. She provides therapeutic services at Affirmations, Columbus, Ohio. Contact her at email@example.com.