Why Do Children Bite?
Why Do Children Bite?
Like you, we worry about our children biting you or other people and children. Even as Early Years Professionals, it’s a concern that plays on our minds too.
We tend to feel anxious about it because it can seem like we have little to no control over when our child tries or succeeds in biting another.
Please, don’t panic.
It’s easy to let our worries take over, but we need to stress that you are not alone in this situation. As we alluded to from the beginning, biting is an issue that so many parents face, including us parents who work with children every day!
Now, chances are your immediate questions will be, “why is it happening” and, “how can I stop it?”.
We’re here to answer those questions for you and provide you with some other insights that you will be interested to learn.
Let’s get started.
“Why does my child bite?”
Biting tends to occur as children reach the toddler stage of development (18 months to 2.5 years). Biting can happen for all sorts of reasons, but the most common include:
- Venting frustration (if they’re unable to communicate or express themselves)
- Seeking attention
- Playing (they may think it’s a game if people laugh or joke about it)
- Learned the behaviour of another child or peer
- Teething pain
Keep in mind that the reason(s) why your child is biting will vary depending on their age and stage of development. For example, babies might bite if they are teething. In contrast, toddlers may bite if they cannot communicate their wants or needs in a particular situation.
“How can I stop my child from biting?”
There’s a good chance you have spotted specific behaviours or triggers just before your child is about to bite. If you haven’t noticed these, it’s good to keep looking for them. For example, does your child bite when they want a toy that another child is playing with? Or, do they take themselves off quietly, giving you an indication that a bite might be about to occur.
If you are aware of these triggers, try to distract them or redirect them to another activity. This tends to be effective in preventing your child from biting.
“What should I do if my child bites?”
Sometimes, you can’t prevent biting, so it’s good to be ready and prepared to deal with it should it happen. How you respond will need to be proportionate to your child’s age.
A teething baby won’t understand words like “no”. So instead, try using chilled teething rings and cold cloths to chew on or teething gels to soothe their pain.
Non-medicinal teething gels such as Dentitox or teething crystals such as Astons & Parsons can also ease teething pain.
Toddlers and Young Children
As children grow and develop and their understanding of language becomes more comprehensive, you can use age-appropriate methods to manage their behaviour.
It can be challenging for toddlers to understand that their actions may have negative consequences. This is because, at the earliest stages of toddler development, they do not quite have the emotional intelligence to realise that biting another child will hurt and upset them. For this reason, it is important to use age-appropriate methods to address this kind of behaviour. For instance, using pictures alongside your words can effectively deliver the message.
Picture prompts are particularly useful in supporting younger children’s understanding of emotions. We use a resource called “Communicate in Print” at our nurseries. If you’ve visited one of our nurseries, you may have noticed some staff wearing picture cards on their lanyards. These picture cards have faces on them to illustrate emotions such as “happy”, “sad”, or “scared”. They are fantastic in supporting children’s understanding of instructions and expectations. They are particularly effective with children who cannot communicate their needs using words.
Parents are welcome to a copy of these cards, but they are also relatively easy to create at home.
“What should I do if my child bites another child?”
The child who has been bitten must be comforted by their parent or carer. If your child is the one who has bitten another child, then ensure you approach the situation in an age-appropriate way.
For children under 3 years of age, you may remove them from the situation. Use simple language to explain what they have done.
For example, “That wasn’t kind. That hurt them. They are upset.” Use short, simple sentences to ensure that they understand the message. This is where you may find picture prompts useful when describing how another child may feel. If possible, you should make sure that your child apologises.
“What should I do if biting becomes a habit for my child?”
Most children will naturally grow out of a biting habit by reaching 3 years of age. You can try some strategies to help your child overcome a biting habit. You will need to be persistent if these are to work effectively.
There is a book that our staff use in our nurseries you can try called, ‘Teeth Are Not for Biting‘ by Elizabeth Verdick. The book uses simple words to help young children discover ways to cope with frustration and other biting triggers.
Consistently reinforce the behaviour that you expect. For example, “use your kind hands” or “be kind to your friends”. Encourage your child to “use their words” when they become frustrated or upset.
Many people forget that children do not always understand the reasons behind having to do something, like sharing. In a child’s eyes, giving up a toy or activity is a highly emotional decision. Bear this in mind when you are asking your child to share.
It’s important to reward good behaviour when you see it, like sharing, being kind or showing patience. Remember to praise your child if they are playing nicely or using words to express their feelings.
Behaviour Management Tools
While we don’t use reward charts at our nurseries, they can effectively encourage good behaviour at home. For instance, your child could collect a sticker each time they behave well. Then, when they receive enough stickers, they could choose a reward or treat like going to the park or choosing a bedtime story.
Be careful to make sure that rewards are not always material items. Activities that you can do together are usually a great reward.
“Nothing seems to stop my child from biting. Should I seek help?”
If you’re worried that your child isn’t breaking their biting habit, you should try talking to professionals, friends or relatives to ask for their advice.
You can always speak to your Health Visitor, who is available to you until your child reaches 5 years. In addition, our nursery staff have plenty of experience working with children who bite, so please talk to them and ask for their help.
Whatever you decide to implement, make sure that you are consistent. Consistency is the difference between a strategy working or failing.