Why Your Child Bites and What You Can Do to Stop It

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Two months ago my toddler started biting. He had never exhibited any signs or desires to bite on anything other than his toys. Like most parents we assumed it was probably a phase and excused his behavior because he was teething. Every parent has that moment of panic when they realize their child is a biter and might actually try to bite another kid. It is a difficult situation to be in for everyone. The good news is you can do something about it and support your child in this difficult time. Here’s some solid advice that can help you and your little one.

It’s Nothing Personal
Remember that every behavior your child makes has a reason behind it. Your child isn’t out to get you or harm you intentionally. He might look amused from your reaction but that’s just because it’s different from the norm and different is always exciting for young children.

Pinpoint the Reason
Think if there are any triggers to your child’s biting. Is she teething? Does she bite when she’s stressed, tired or overstimulated? Is it during moments of conflict when she is frustrated and can’t express herself? Monitor your child and try to minimize these situations or step in before it escalates to where you feel they will bite. Simply remove them from the situation calmly, to a quieter, calmer environment. Talk about and address whatever is upsetting or frustrating them. Hearing you and feeling their feelings are validated can help calm her down.

Attention Grabbing
Getting attention is the reason behind so much of young children’s behavior. Ask yourself, how do you react? When your child bites it’s understandably an emotional situation for you. Try to give yourself a moment before you react verbally. You might even have to separate your child from others. Try to do this as calmly as possible. Be firm, not loud and tell your child that we don’t bite and biting hurts. Quickly shift your attention to the child/person that was bitten because continuing to talk to your child about the biting is feeding negative attention. You can ask your child to help by bringing a Band-Aid, or model gentle touch instead of biting. In turn, reinforce positive behavior when your child uses an alternate method, like saying “stop”, coming to you for help, or waiting their turn.

Moving Forward
There is no need to hold a grudge against your child when a biting incident occurs. It’s hard, but try to look at biting like all the other rules that get broken and need reminders. Help your child move on by choosing another toy/activity, taking them to bed, leaving the store etc. It will depend on what the situation is and what they need to help them move away from it.

Talking It Out
With verbal children you can explain how they could have responded instead of biting. Ask your child how she felt, what caused her to bite, what does she think she could have done instead? These discussion can help your child calmly process a situation that is usually emotional and happens very fast. Help your young child identify feelings and learn words that can help in moments of frustration like “sleep”, “tired”, “stop” and “no”. For younger non-verbal children, baby sign language can be a very useful option to help them express themselves.

What Doesn’t Work
Shaming, punishment and emotional deprivation do not work to help stop biting. According to the Zero to Three Organisation they do, however, make children feel worse and in turn act our more to increase the incidents of biting. Biting your child back is not a solution either. Like hitting, it shows your child that biting is an acceptable way to deal with a difficult situation.

When to Seek Help
If your child is over 3 years old and continues or starts to bite, it may be a good option to seek professional help to assist you in a behavior modification plan if needed.

Dealing with a child who bites is frustrating and very emotional for parents. Be patient and know that this too shall pass!

Jailan is a parenting coach born and raised in Egypt, and now based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A mother of a toddler herself, Jailan’s passion is to help parents of young children bring respectful, positive parenting into their daily lives. She provides parent coaching consultations to families worldwide, in person and via Skype, as well as workshops and a monthly parent support group for parents in the Netherlands. She is a current PhD candidate in the field of Child & Family studies through Leiden University, and has completed certifications in early childhood education (from UCLA) and Positive Discipline (from Jane Nelsen & Lynn Loyd). You can connect with her on her website at www.EarlyYearsParenting.com, Facebook or email at Jailan@EarlyYearsParenting.com.

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