Toddlers and Biting: Finding the Right Response.
Trying your best to understand the underlying cause of the biting will help you develop an effective response. Children bite in order to cope with a challenge or fulfill a need. Biting is a very common behavior among toddlers.
There are many reasons why toddlers might bite. Some are listed below. Toddlers might bite if they:
· Lack language skills necessary for expressing important needs or strong feelings like anger, frustration, joy, etc. Biting is a substitute for the
messages he can’t yet express in words like: I am so mad at you, you are standing too close to me, I am really excited, or I want to play with you.
· Are overwhelmed by the sounds, light or activity level in this setting.
· Are experimenting to see what will happen
· Are teething
· Have an need for oral stimulation What Do I Do When My Toddler Bites?
First, keep your own feelings in check. When a toddler bites, you might feel frustrated, infuriated, annoyed, embarrassed, and/or worried. All of these feelings are normal, but responding when you are in an intense emotional state is usually not a good idea. So calm yourself before you respond.
In a firm, matter-of-fact voice (but not angry or yelling), say: No biting. Biting hurts. Comment on how the other child is feeling: Look, Madison is crying. She is crying because you bit her. Biting hurts. Keep it short, simple and clear.
Next, shift your attention to the child who was bitten. Often when a child bites, adults pay a lot of attention to him or her. This is usually negative attention,
but it is still very reinforcing and can actually cause the biting behavior to continue, rather than stop. When parents shift their focus and energy to the child who was bitten, they clearly communicate that biting does not result in more attention. Showing concern and sympathy for the child who was bitten also teaches empathy.
1. Support Communication and Language Skills
If you think biting is a substitute for not having the language skills to express himself you can:
· Put into words what you guess your child might be thinking: Tanya, do you want to have a turn on the tricycle? You can ask Henry, “Can I have a turn now?”
· Help your child express his feelings in appropriate ways. If your child is really angry, you can say: Max, you are so mad! You are really, really angry. Then suggest a way to deal with these feelings.
· Reinforce your child when he uses words to share his feelings: You asked me for a turn blowing bubbles instead of grabbing them. Great job. Here you go.
· Give your child age-appropriate choices, for example, about what to wear or who to play with. Having choices gives children a sense of control and can reduce biting.
If your child is easily overwhelmed by lights, sound, and activity, you can:
· Keep television and radio off or on low volumes.
· Avoid big crowds and high-activity settings like the mall or the playground at busy periods.
· Schedule activities with a lot of sensory input.
· Talk with your child’s other caregivers about his difficulty managing a lot of sensory input. Brainstorm ways to reduce the stimulation in his other settings for example nursery, grandparents or friends’ homes
· Give your child a firm “bear” hug when you sense she is feeling stressed and out of control and perhaps about to bite. This can help children feel “held together” which can be very soothing.
If your child is experimenting to see what will happen when he bites, you can:
· Provide immediate, firm, unemotional (as best you can) feedback (No biting. Biting hurts.). Shift attention away from your child to the child who was bit.
· Help your child understand about cause-and-effect: You bit Macy and now she is crying. When you bite, it hurts your friends.
If your child is over-tired, you can:
· Try incrementally moving bedtime 30 to 60 minutes earlier over a few weeks.
· Set up a schedule of naps or, if she/he won’t nap, “quiet times” when she/he is in her/his crib or bed with a book and soft music playing.
· Avoid play-dates or other potentially stressful activities on days when she is very tired.
· Tell your child’s other caregivers when she has not slept well or is tired so they can shadow her, in order to reduce the possibility of a biting incident.
If your child is teething, you can:
· Offer him/her a teether or cold washcloth to bite.
· Talk to your child’s caregivers to make sure they understand he/she is teething and to identify appropriate teethers in the nursery.
If your child has a need for oral stimulation:
· Offer them crunchy (healthy) snacks at regular intervals across the day. Research has found that this intervention can actually reduce biting incidents.