child development biting behavior

Biting behavior in young children can cause concern for parents and child caregivers. Almost all children bite at one time, but most children will stop after being instructed to do so or by providing other options to the behavior.  By the time your child is three years of age, biting should be rare. However if your child is still biting long after they turned three, addressing the behavior and underlying issues should be a main priority.

So what does it mean when your child bites?
Many times infants will bite because they want to relieve the pressure in their gums while teething. They may also think it is a fun game to play with mommy and daddy. Preschoolers often bite because they have not learned how to handle or cope with stress or do not have the verbal skills to communicate what is wrong.

What are other reasons that could cause a child to bite?
Children may be overtired, jealous, frustrated, mad, etc., or to simply see what happens when they bite, which is especially true of infants and younger toddlers, who may just be experimenting and exploring their world.

So what can we as parents do?
Below are some ideas for dealing with children who bite:

1. When biting behavior occurs, parents should be careful not to overreact as this can reinforce the biting (because your child gets excited about the reaction it brings about). Parents should never do anything like biting their child back or physically punish their child.

2. When you see your child bite someone, use a calm voice to remind him that biting is not allowed. You do not want your child to learn that biting is a good way to get your attention. Use a brief phrase that acknowledges her feelings, but condones the action, such as, “I know you’re angry, but biting is not okay. Biting hurts.”

3. Remove your child from the situation. Tell her that you are doing so because you know that they need to calm down and not want to hurt anyone. Let them see you focus on the victim of the bite so that they learn that the receiver gets the attention, not the biter. If the (biter) is calm, consider letting them help comfort or bandage the victim.

4. After the incident is over, talk with your child about the incident and together come up with other appropriate ways of dealing with a situation.

5. Teach empathy for others by asking your child to imagine what it felt like to be bitten. However, take care not to punish biting with a physical response, such as spanking or by telling the child who was bitten to bite back; doing so, will contradict your message that it is unacceptable to express anger or frustration by physically hurting others.

6. Sometimes children bite in order to exert control over their environment. Make sure to stick to routines so that your child feels a sense of predictability. Let him make choices about what he wants to do as much as possible.

If your child continues biting despite using some of the above ideas (and particularly if your child continues to bite while the majority of other children their age have outgrown biting), consult your pediatrician, as there may be physical or developmental difficulties that need to be addressed.

Image Credit: mauimama

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Profile photo of Dr. Bobbie-Jo Moniz-Tadeo
Dr. Bobbie-Jo Moniz-Tadeo is currently the program director and Early Childhood Specialist at Imua Family Services. She is a Maui born resident who graduated from Maui High School and continued her education and earned her Associate's, Bachelor's, and Master's Degree from University of Hawaii. She also currently holds her Doctorate Degree in Education. Besides Imua Family Services, Dr. Moniz-Tadeo is also an instructor and teaches courses in Early Childhood Development and Special Education at University of Hawaii Maui College. Thus, she is also a Professor of Practice for Argosy University Honolulu and teaches Master and Doctorate level courses in Education, Curriculum, and Policy and Procedures. Dr. Moniz-Tadeo is dedicated in her efforts at inspiring opportunity and inspiration for those who otherwise may not have it, is in its self the motivation that drives her to continue to support families and children in the community. btadeo@imuafamilyservices.org imuafamilyservices.org

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