Biting might be cute when babies are little and have more gums than teeth, but as they grow older (and their teeth start to come through!), biting can very quickly turn from an amusing little quirk to a painful health hazard.
In extreme cases, having a child who's labelled a biter can even leave parents (and their children) feeling stigmatised, especially if the behaviour is directed frequently towards other children.
Some children are habitual biters while others don't seem to feel the urge to sink their teeth into anything more controversial than a sandwich.
So why do toddlers bite and what can you do to stop them?
Why Do Toddlers Bite?
There are a number of reasons why older kids bite and in most cases hurting the other person isn't their main motivation. While biting and chewing on things can be a natural way for very young children to deal with pain and teething, older kids may bite because:
- It gets a reaction. A scream or an exclamation of surprise can be a rewarding result for a good hard bite and the biter may not realise that they are causing pain to their victim.
- They are frustrated. Biting is sometimes an easier way for kids to express their emotions and assert themselves than using their words.
- They want/need attention… and a negative reaction is better than nothing. If children feel they aren't being noticed enough they may use any techniques at their disposal to get attention, including biting.
How Can I Prevent My Toddler From Biting?
If you can head your child off before they sink their teeth in, you can hopefully divert them into more long term positive behaviours and minimise stress and injury to their victims. Here are some ideas:
Biting Tip #1: Once your child is old enough and their language skills are well enough developed, encourage them to start using their words to express their feelings. Teaching kids to recognise feelings of anger and communicate them verbally can reduce their need to resort to physical ways of expressing themselves.
Biting Tip #2: Reduce unnecessary crankiness which might lead to a biting situation by making sure they get enough sleep and are in a calm frame of mind when they play with other children. Bringing a few snacks along to playdates or the park can help reduce the chances of hunger induced grumpiness causing a biting situation.
Biting Tip #3: Make sure your child gets plenty of attention from you during the course of the day so they don't feel they need to bite to get attention. This is especially important if there are transitions or stressful events going on in your child's life.
What Should I Do When My Child Bites?
Whatever you do, do not follow the advice that you should bite a toddler back, nor hurt them in response. Not only will you hurt your child, but you’re teaching them that it’s acceptable to respond to situations with physical harm or violence.
Whenever your child bites another child or adult it's important to intervene and let your child know firmly that biting isn't acceptable and that it hurts. If they are old enough to understand, explain a more appropriate alternative, for example saying ‘stop,' or taking some deep breaths till they feel calm.
If you suspect your child may be biting for attention, try to minimise your reaction and instead give plenty of sympathy and attention to the victim. Praise your child and give them extra attention when you catch them behaving appropriately with other children and playing nicely.
Biting is often viewed as a particularly heinous offence in playgrounds and other public places but it's surprisingly common. Most children will naturally grow out of biting as they get older.