Child Behaviour: Why Children Bite and how to stop it.
In all the years I have worked with children let me firstly reassure you that biting is completely normal. I know that as the parent it can make you feel shocked and embarrassed when your child is the biter and you worry about the reaction from other parents, teachers and anyone else who witnesses or overhears that your child bit another child.
If your child has been bitten, you want answers especially if in a playgroup setting like a kinder as to why it happened and you may even tell your child to keep away from the child that has bitten them. In group settings, biting happens very quickly and there is normally no prior notice, it is not always a sign that the children are not being supervised. A group of three year olds may be the same age but at different levels of development and communications which may lead to a biting incident as they cannot verbalise what they want.
Children Biting – Once Bitten Twice Shy
Biting usually occurs between the ages of one and up to four years of age. It can come out of nowhere and stop just as suddenly as it started. It is a phase that is changeable or just stops. Biting although not acceptable is normally a child’s way of communicating something that they cannot yet verbalise, or express eg: “I want that toy now !” or “You are in my space” or even as an expression of love, normally for their mother and at times their sibling. In the excitement of playing they bite. I remember when my two children were little and saying “I love you so much I’m going to eat you up” and I grab their feet and playfully nibble, just to hear their hysterical giggles saying “Mummy stop don’t eat me”.
Reasons For Children Biting
Kids love putting things in their mouths, so experimenting
Too much love especially for mum
Lack of vocabulary to express how they feel
Frustration , the child wants the attention or toy now
Lack of attention
Tired or unwell
Having to share when they are not yet developmentally ready
Gaining control of a situation
Too much going on around them
Too much structure in their play/environment
Not understanding that biting is not acceptable
Lack of choice
Attention seeking behaviour
Children Biting Don’t Panic!
- Do not panic and stay calm and breathe (it’s not a sign of anything serious) It could be any or a mix of the above reasons.
- Biting is quick so remove the biter gently from the child they have bitten
- Say “No biting because you hurt Mary. Mary is sad now because she is sore”
- Let the biter see and possibly help you look after the child they bit.
- Don’t force a sorry, especially on a young child and if its the first time they have bitten.
- You can validate the emotion they are feeling “I know you are cross /sad Tom took your toy,that you were playing with, but No Biting, it makes everyone sad”
- Introduce Visual aids for children on things we never ever do; biting, hitting, spitting e.g. Never Ever Board
- Teach emotions sad, happy and angry. Children experience all these emotions which are fully valid, give them the words they need to use.
- Demonstrate adverbs like gentle and stroke their hand and let them stroke yours.
- When reading stories, point out that the characters use their words, mix the story up “What would happen if Sally bit Jenny?”
- Children like to feel big and grown up, you can say grown ups do not bite, we use our words.
- If the child bites again take the time to observe their surroundings and see what the triggers may be from the above list.
- Toddlers may bite but it is not a thought out act of malice.
- The biting may stop and replaced by pushing or hitting, again the same points apply.
- Preempt the situation. “We are playing and we will be gentle, show me how you are gentle”
- Role play with their toys. In one case I worked with the child had been biting for 6 months. When I role played with his favourite toys Woody and Buzz Light Year, Woody bit Buzz, Buzz started to cry, was sad and did not want to play with Woody. This visual role play assisted the 3 year old boy to understand the effects of biting and he stopped.
- Praise the child when they are playing nicely, so they can internalise what is good behaviour.
- Because biting happens in an flash we need to be aware that if we did not see the full incident, that the biter may have been provoked and although biting is not acceptable there could be an underlying reason we have missed.
So do not feel desperation if your child bites, it is normally just a phase that comes and disappears quite quickly once the child understands why it is not a behaviour that is acceptable.
Did your child bite? How did you get them stop? Or has your child been bitten what did you do ?