It is never a fun moment when your child’s teacher calls, informing you that your child bit a classmate. Or what about when your child bites you or their siblings? Biting is a stressful experience for everyone involved. Let’s discuss why it may happen and what can be done to prevent it.
Is biting normal?
While not every child will bite, it is a very common behavior in toddlers. Biting usually stops by three or three-and-a-half. However, just because it is a normal stage of development does not mean it is an acceptable behavior. In order to try to prevent age-appropriate biting, we first need to try to understand what may trigger it.
Why is my child biting?
Toddlers are experiencing so many new feelings, both physically and emotionally, during this time in their development. These changes could lead to feeling the need to bite. Understanding why your child may be biting may help you support them from biting.
- Teething – This can be a painful process, especially getting those two-year-old molars, and sometimes clenching their teeth on something (or someone) helps relieve the tension they are feeling in their mouths.
- Sensory needs – Our bodies seek out what it needs in many different ways. Some children’s mouths need more stimulation to feel “awake” or regulated. Their bodies may also need more large muscle activities, such as running, climbing, and jumping to release that tension and energy they are releasing with their jaws.
- Big emotions – Have you ever been so excited or angry that your clench your jaw or fists? Luckily you have the inhibition skills to avoid biting those around you in those moments. Toddlers are learning about a lot of new feelings and how they make their body feel. Sharing, tiredness, fear, and overstimulation are really tough to navigate when you’re just learning and can be overwhelming. Toddlers are also learning to be more independent from their caregivers and recognizing that things they want may not be what the people around them want for them. That causes frustration that may lead to biting too.
- Few words – Toddlers are also learning language skills. Often times their communication skills are not developing as fast as the large emotions mentioned earlier. Biting can be an effective way to get a point across when they do not have the words to do so. You may see more biting in children who have a language delay.
What can I do?
- Do some detective work – Are there any patterns to your child’s behavior? Do they tend to bite before lunch/nap time? Is it when other children encroach on their personal space? Have there been recent changes to their regular routine or family dynamics? By noting when biting happens most often, it may prompt you to give extra support during those times, such as offering a snack, making naptime a little earlier in the day, or having two of the same item to assist with sharing.
- Offer an alternative – If your child is biting due to teething or sensory input, redirect them to a chewy tube or teething ring. Sometimes a wet washcloth kept in the refrigerator or freezer offers a soothing sensation to chew on for sensitive gums.
- Model appropriate language – As mentioned before, sometimes biting gets a message across faster than words can come out. Help teach your child the power of words by modeling language they can use. For example, “I need space!” “Move, please” “My turn!” Encourage them to ask for help from an adult if their words are not enough with their peers.
- Read books – There are many children’s book about biting, such as Teeth are not for Bitingby Elizabeth Verdick. Reading together can provide the opportunity to talk through situations without the intense emotions of the moment.
- Reinforce expectations – Remind your child that, no, biting is not allowed. Be firm, but try to not to express anger. You want your child to know that you do not approve of the behavior, but that you still love them. Remember to replace the unwanted behavior with the preferred behavior. Example: “Ouch! It is not okay to bite. Biting hurts. You can bite this teether instead, but you may not bite your friends.”
- Wash, rinse, repeat – Children learn through repetition. They may not remember to stop biting after the first time you redirect them. Or the fifth. Like learning any new skill, it takes time, practice, and patience. Remember that children’s inhibition skills are still developing until age four, even if they know what they are doing is wrong. And to be honest, some of us adults are still mastering avoiding the things we know are not good for us!
Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s biting, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-332-9439.
Becky Clark, MS, DT
Reference:Zero to Three. (2016, February 22). Toddlers and biting: finding the right response. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/232-toddlers-and-biting-finding-the-right-response.
Lieberman, A. F. (1995). The emotional life of the toddler. New York: Free Press.
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