You give your child ample calcium so he or she can build strong teeth. If only your child didn’t use them against you… and the kid down the street… and Uncle Harry! Today we’re discussing biting: who does it, what it means, and how to stop it.
First, if your toddler bites, know that you’re not alone. It’s a fairly common behavior among children, actually, and it happens for a number of reasons:
- Oral fixation
- Experimentation, and importantly,
- It usually gets results.
That’s right… it works. There’s a pay-off. Generally, if I want a toy you have and, as we struggle over it, I bite your hand, you’ll let go! Voila! I get the toy! Since it worked, I’ll try it again. In addition, the bitten child is paying attention. Often, children who get bitten become children who bite. As long as it’s effective, it will be a challenge to curb the behavior.
So what’s a parent to do? Pay attention to when the biting occurs. Does it always involve certain people? Does it often happen around a specific time of day? What warning signs does your child give before he or she sinks her teeth into whoever might be nearby? When you begin to notice biting patterns, you can then start curbing the behavior by interrupting it and by managing the environment to reduce triggers for your child.
If you sense a biting incident is about to take place, it’s time to take some action.
How to stop the biting behavior before it starts:
- Start with re-direction. Give your child a book or toy so they can focus their energy on that instead. Diverting their attention might be all they need to work through the urge.
- Offer to take your child on a walk to get out any pent-up energy that might be fueling the biting. Keep it calm though. You don’t want to wind him or her up further.
- Teach your child to use words to demonstrate their feelings. For example, if you notice your son or daughter resorts to biting when they’re angry, ask him or her to say something like, “I don’t like it when you do that” in place of biting. Then reward your child when they use their words instead of their actions to vent frustration.
- Hand your child something to chew on like carrots or crackers. If your son or daughter bites because he or she needs something to do with their mouth, this is a good alternative.
If biting has already occurred, the game plan changes a bit.
What to do if someone (yourself included) has been bitten:
- React firmly but not emotionally. Resist the urge to raise your voice, and keep your anger to yourself! Try saying something like, “We don’t bite. Biting hurts.”
- If another child was bitten, instruct your son or daughter to take note of their reaction and how biting makes the other child feel. For example, if the other child is crying, you can try saying, “She is crying because you bit her. She is hurt. Biting hurts.”
- Whenever possible, direct your greatest attention to the child who got bitten, rather that to the child who did the biting. As you comfort the bitten child, say things like, “I’m sorry ____ bit your finger. I know that hurts. Biting hurts.” This demonstrates to the biting child that biting is not the way to get attention, while teaching empathy for others in the process.
You can stop a toddler from biting once you begin to understand what causes it. That’s why it’s imperative to pay as much attention to what’s happening around the time of the biting as the biting itself. When you begin to take pre-bite precautions, so you can “interrupt the cycle”, as well as implement a careful post-bite plan, you can… uh… nip this challenging behavior in the bud.