If you see your child bite another child, or your child care provider tells you about a biting incident, the most important thing parents need to know is that biting is a normal childhood behavior. Overreacting can reinforce the biting. First, determine why the infant, toddler, or young child is biting so you'll have the information needed for an appropriate response.
A child may bite due to teething, frustration, anger, or irritability due to poor sleep. Before you question them about any biting incidents, remember that a young child's lack of vocabulary may prevent them from sharing their precise feelings about why they are doing what they are doing.
Why children may bite
Infants and young toddlers may bite to see the response as they discover their different senses. A defensive or copycat response could be caused by being bitten or seeing another child biting someone. Sometimes, biting is simply a way to seek attention.
The first time it happens, speak to the child on their level and explain that it's not okay to bite people and that it hurts. Keep your language simple and talk calmly and firmly, such as, "No biting. Biting hurts."
A child-proof teething toy may be the solution if teething is causing the problem. To determine other causes of biting, you should monitor your child more closely—at home and with their child care provider—to prevent the biting. Also, work with your child to expand their vocabulary or learn more appropriate actions to release frustration, like shaking their wrists as if flinging water off their fingertips.
Also, be sure to remind your child as often as needed not to bite their friends because it hurts and makes them cry.
Here are some ways to address a child's biting habit.
- Observe your child to learn where, when, and in what situations biting occurs. Sometimes, an adult may need to stay close to the child to prevent biting.
- Pay attention to signals that a child is about to bite. Stay close and step in if your child seems ready to bite.
- Suggest alternative and acceptable ways to express their feelings. Help your child learn to communicate their wants and needs.
- Use reminders to help your child learn to express strong feelings with appropriate words and actions.
- Reinforce your child's positive behavior when they use appropriate words and actions instead of biting.
- Provide opportunities for your child to make choices and feel empowered.
- Be sure your behavior expectations are age-appropriate and individually appropriate for your child. Expecting a child to do something they cannot do can cause children to feel stress, and stress can lead to biting.
- Offer foods with various textures to meet your child's sensory needs.
- Teach your child words for setting limits, such as "no," "stop," or "that's mine."
Working with your child care provider
Remember, most children bite at some point because biting is normal childhood behavior. Your child is not a "bad kid" because they bit another child. Biting is not a reason for a child to be kicked out of child care, but you should work with your provider to ensure the behavior is monitored closely and handled appropriately.
Parents and child care providers should collaborate on language and reactions to create consistent responses to biting. When children express themselves appropriately, encourage the behavior by praising them for responsibly handling things.
The good news is that when handled properly, biting is typically a very short-term problem.