Toddlers bite. It’s a natural part of their development. And while this particular habit may cause serious frustration for parents of both the biters and the bitees, the good news is, there is something you can do about it with a few tips for positive parenting.
First and foremost, it helps to understand that biting is a normal part of childhood usually occurring between the ages of 1 and 3. If your child bites or has been bitten, you have good company as most parents experience this at least once.
Whether your child bites or is the victim of biting, your child’s teachers understand the issues around biting. They understand that your child probably doesn’t bite at home. After all, there are not 3-5 other kids his age around, so there are not the opportunities for frustration! Good parent’s kids may bite.
They also know biting feels personal. So when you see a bite mark, it feels like your child is being singled out, bullied even. But as you can see from the reasons children bite, it wasn’t personal.
Causes of Biting
To help your child stop biting, start by understanding why your child may have started biting in the first place. Children bite for various reasons including:
- While teething, which causes discomfort and biting often relieves the pain and feels good on a child’s gums;
- Ear infections, biting serves the same function as yawing. It relieves pressure in the ear canal.
- To experiment with the world around them and to see what happens when they bite someone;
- Out of frustration, particularly before language develops and a child can’t express his emotions through words;
- To gain attention from a parent, friend or caretaker;
- Or when children feel stress, get upset or feel angry.
Once you figure out the reason your child bites, it makes it easier to address the root causes and help your child find a different outlet for their emotions, their curiosity or their discomfort.
How to Stop Biting
The best of the tips for positive parenting of a biter is to never bite a child back. Your grandmother may have suggested this strategy, but biting a child back only shows that biting is acceptable and reinforces their behavior. Even though you may want to, do not ever bite your child back.
Instead, start by immediately telling your child, “No. We don’t bite,” or “Biting hurts. No biting.” This provides the immediate message that even young children understand. So remove your child from the biting situation and say “No.”
Then, address those root causes of biting. A little prevention can go a long way from stopping the biting before it starts.
- For teethers, keep a teething ring or washcloth on hand for your child to bite on so she doesn’t turn on a playmate or you instead.
- Work with children on developing language skills to express their emotions. Picture books with different faces and emotion words can help children put words to feelings. Role playing different expressions during times when children are happy and relaxed can help as well.
- Avoid situations that cause frustration for your child such as getting hungry, over tired or upset.
- Make sure your child gets enough attention from you throughout the day so they don’t bite in order to gain your attention.
- Build empathy in your child by helping him understand that biting hurts people.
Children will most often grow out of biting, but you should take your child to a doctor if the biting seems uncontrollable, occurs after a child is three years old, or seems to occur for no reason at all.
Sometimes, your child isn’t the biter but the one bitten. In these cases, treat the bite injury by washing it with soap and water and using an antibacterial ointment if the skin was broken. Then, reinforce positive behavior by letting your child know biting isn’t okay so that your child doesn’t pick up biting as a habit.
While biting can cause parental frustration, remain calm and know that kids will grow out of this phase just as they grow out of other phases of childhood. In the meantime, use these tips for positive parenting to help your child stop biting.
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