Monday, 9th of June, 2014
Biting is something that parents always ask us about. The easy answer to why it happens is that biting children are trying to cope with a challenge and fulfill a need e.g. to express a strong feeling. Of course as parents we know there’s no easy answer to parenting (although some day I wish there was!), but don’t panic: biting is a common issue and can be easily resolved once you identify the trigger.
If a biting incident occurs, firmly tell the child “Stop. No biting. It hurts.” It can be trying, but don’t let your frustration get in the way. Children pick up on our cues so your stress and frustration can aggravate the situation. Remember that children under the age of 5 are not aware of their behaviour and are still learning self-control. We know you’ve seen it and we know it can be alarming; sometimes they just cannot seem to stop themselves! (Also let’s be honest – even though we’re all adults self-control is still something we’re working on, so imagine how hard it is for toddlers.)
It’s also important to help children understand that biting is not an ill-intentioned, spiteful act, but a means through which their friend has chosen to express themselves. Encourage them to talk about how they feel; you can also ask them questions like “are you feeling angry? Is there something you want to tell me or your friend?”
If you child is persistently biting, you have to understand why in order to effectively stop them from biting. When a biting incident occurs, take the time to assess the situation so you can anticipate it next time. Ask yourself questions like:
1. what happened right before the bite?
2. who was your child playing with?
3. what was your child doing?
4. where was your child?
They may be over tired, teething, or just experimenting to see what will happen. Some children bite because they feel neglected and want attention, but more often children bite because they lack the language skills to communicate what they want or how they feel. I often find it’s when they are frustrated that they bite. Frustration can occur in many situations: when their personal space is being threatened, when someone has something they want, or even when they’re tired.
Once you’ve identified the trigger, work on diverting your child from biting. The first thing I tell parents who have or know children who bite is to not label them a ‘biter’. Labeling can lead to reinforcement of this identity, which will only result in more frequent and aggressive biting. Instead, suggest how your child can handle the situation by giving them words to communicate better. Words like “you’re in my space” can help a child express his feelings, as does asking for help from a caregiver/ parent. Make sure to show attention to the child who was bitten to avoid giving negative attention to the child who bit. This helps children who bite for attention to understand that biting doesn’t get them extra love. Showing concern to the child who was bitten also shows empathy.
Working through biting can be distressing, but remember that partnership with your preschool or kindergarten is important. It helps to have the same strategies too. Make sure to let the teachers in school know of incidences at home too so they can anticipate situations and help re-direct children away from biting.