Why is my child biting?
It’s the time of day when you are about to pick your little one up from school. You are tired from a hard day’s work, and you have managed to get through the day without strangling anyone. Well done! Now you can’t wait to swoop your child up into your arms for a quick cuddle before you enter the next phase of your day…domesticity. Basically, that means being the mother of one or more two-legged tornado’s, as well as organizing and running a household that is constantly being revamped by the two-legged tornado’s. A feat, in my opinion, that deserves a trophy. Anyway, I am getting sidetracked.
You arrive at your child’s school to be greeted by your child’s teacher, who very apologetically tells you that your child has been bitten. Well, there goes the ‘no fatality’ record for the day.
You cannot believe that someone bit your precious little person! That ‘someone’s’ parents will definitely be hearing from you! And then your exasperation or rage, depending on the rating your day got on the bad-day-o-meter, turns to your child’s teacher. Okay, hold on… let’s pause for a moment and think about a few things. No, not revenge. Let’s rather figure out why the biting incident happened.
There are quite a few normal reasons why one child may take a chomp out of another’s limb. Especially up until the age of 3 and I can assure you that none of them are underlying cannibalistic tendencies. In fact, the reasons why children bite range from frustration to curiosity. It is very seldom that a child will vindictively choose a victim to bite. If biting becomes extreme and persists then there are most likely other signs of developmental or emotional issues. Below, I am going to list a few reasons that may have your child latching their toothy grip on someone’s appendage.
- Curiosity – Hmmm…that finger looks interesting, let’s taste it. Oooh! It made a screaming noise! I am definitely going to try that again!
- Imitation – I saw it happen/ it happened to me, let’s give it a try.
- The need to feel in control –This room is so crowded; there is so much noise, so many things that scare me!
- Attention – Mommy, why are you still talking! I want your attention now!
- Self-defense – That’s my toy! Give it back!
- Inability to communicate–I don’t know how to say “That’s my toy! Give it back!” so what other choice do I have?
- Frustration – Why can’t you understand me?! Leave me alone! I don’t want to!
- Excitement – Oh my goodness! This tickle session is so much fun I just can’t control myself!!
- A range of other emotional stress issues – Something has made my heart very sad and I don’t understand this feeling. I don’t know how to tell people I feel like this; I can only show them.
Navigating this world with a limited vocabulary is a very frustrating phase for a child. But be rest assured that all children go through this phase. There are a variety of different ways in which a child shows this frustration, biting is a very common outlet. How smoothly they transition through this developmental stage is largely up to the adults who care for them.
There are so many ‘old-wives-tales’ on how to deal with a biter…some of them are believably convincing and some make you think ‘Seriously? People do that?!’ Let me sift through these tales. I will filter out the facts from the foolishness and hopefully show you a few ways in which to deal with, and definitely not to deal with, your toddler tasting sweetheart.
Don’t resort to these tried and tested (and failed miserably) tricks:
- Don’t bite the child back in retaliation. We are supposed to lead by example, not retaliate with the offending behaviour.
- Don’t force the child to bite himself/herself. I don’t even know where to start with the very many reasons why you shouldn’t do this…just don’t.
- Don’t freak out and deliver a 10-minute lecture. If the biting is an attention-seeking ploy, delivering a state of the nation length speech will give them exactly what they want. Remember, attention is attention to a child, be it delivered negatively or positively.
How about we focus on the positive, result delivering do’s:
- If your child is teething, give them something to chew on; something that is made to be chewed on. There is nothing more soothing than chewing on a nice cold teething ring to get rid of those gummy aches.
- When faced with a crying toddler, that has just been bitten and a very guilty looking biter, reprimand the biter by firmly telling them that biting is not allowed, add a reason or two as to why you deem it bad behaviour e.g. It hurts the person that gets bitten, it is not a way to show anger or frustration (base it on the situation). Then focus your attention on the toddler who was bitten. By doing this you will be showing the biter, and possibly the audience of toddlers that have gathered that biting someone doesn’t get them the immediate attention that they may want. Once the bitten toddler is calm and the wound has been cleaned, remind the biter of the reasons why we do not react like this and give them some love, after all, emotions, be it anger or frustration, are scary emotions to feel when your ability to process these big feelings are so limited.
- When you are dealing with a mini nappy-wearing vampire, you know the tiny tots who nip you on the neck or shoulder when they reach excitement overload, try to steer clear of those triggers. Sternly tell them ‘No! No Biting!’ and remember to be prepared when the same trigger may come along again. It really is pointless reading the ‘bill of no bites’ to them.
When biting becomes a habit…
Buy a muzzle. No, just kidding. I am quite sure that’s not legal, no matter how tempting it may sound after your child has bitten again for the goodness-knows-how-many’th-time. You and your child’s teacher will have to be on the same page with regards to the plan of action and remember it takes a while to break a habit.
A good foundation to start on is to help your child learn and understand key phrases like, no, that’s mine, stop and leave me alone. This is giving them an alternative to biting. Unfortunately, this solution may not always have the desired effect as the one who is about to get bitten may not follow these commands. Don’t let this demotivate you, these defensive commands will eventually be understood and whenever your child uses them instead of defensive action, don’t forget to congratulate them.
The next preventative measure comes into play when the defensive command is ignored. You need to watch the child and react when you see that the situation is heading towards a tiny tot meltdown and jump in to prevent an incident before it happens.
Last but not least…if your child reacts to stress or excitement by biting, it helps to keep playful biting out of the games that you may play with them. Your gentle toe nibbling might encourage frustrated finger chomping.
If you find that your child is older than 4, and still biting, despite you having read 3 ‘How to Stop a Toddler from Biting’ books and you have attended all the seminars on the topic that you can find, as well as having read this blog, then your child’s biting issues may stem from a more serious emotional or developmental problem. This is the time to get some professional help.
It’s not a nice feeling to be told that your child has bitten someone; your emotions ping-pong between anger and protectiveness. Just remember that your child is reacting in a perfectly normal way. Now it’s up to you to keep the situation calm and react in a perfectly responsible adult way.