Does your child sometimes bite other children? While this can be embarrassing for us as parents, it really doesn’t reflect on your parenting skills. In fact, it’s quite common for children between the ages of 15-36 months to bite.
Biting is a way young children can express anger, frustration or even their desire to get attention. They don’t yet have the developmental skills they would need to understand and express why they are acting like this. That’s not to say that you should stand by and watch when your child bites someone. Your child needs to know that biting is not acceptable.
Responding to Biting
If your child bites someone, address the action immediately. A statement like, “I know you are mad, but biting is not OK,” acknowledges your child’s feelings while still making it clear the behavior is not acceptable.
Biting your child back, which some might suggest, is not a useful or appropriate response. There is no research to show that biting a child back reduces biting. In fact, your child learns by watching what you do. When you bite, it sends the message that it’s OK to bite people when you are upset. Also, biting back doesn’t help young children learn the skills they need in order to understand and express themselves more appropriately.
Trying to determine what is causing your child to bite is the best way to put a stop to it. See if you notice any triggers that seem to lead to his or her biting. Here are some of the more common reasons you may notice – and how you can address them.
Common Reasons for Biting & Prevention Tips
1. If your child doesn’t know how to express his frustration or anger: Help your child with his words when he is frustrated by saying something like, “I see you are really mad that you can’t climb up the stairs. Let’s find something else to do. Do you want to play ball with me?” or, “I see you didn’t like when he wanted to get the trucks from you. What can we do?” Another tip is to have your child learn to point to what he or she wants, such as “Show me what you want.” Often when young children are really upset, they can’t find the words to say what they want or need.
2. If your child is overwhelmed and stressed: Children may bite due to too much noise, too many people or too much activity. Give your child a quiet space to play. Be extra vigilant and hold your child to relieve her stress; slowly, gently rub her back to help relieve stress. Using simple language, gently talk about the problem that may have caused the biting, and what your child needs.
3. If your child may be experimenting to see what will happen when he bites someone: Immediately let your child know that biting is not OK, while being careful to avoid paying lots of attention or having a big reaction to the biting. It may help to remove your child from the situation very briefly. When using this age-modified “time out” strategy with very young children, remember that it is the promptness of the time out, rather than how long it lasts, that matters. A very brief modified “time out” can be effective for very young children if it happens immediately after the biting.
4. If your child may be overly tired: Being tired is a common reason for not handling things well, at any age. Help your child get rest and avoid taking her places when she is too tired.
5. If your child is teething: Provide a cool washcloth or teething ring to chew on.
Patience and consistency are important when you respond to biting. If your child continues to bite and you find yourself becoming overly frustrated, talk to a member of your child’s health care team about how to better cope with and address this undesirable behavior.