Truth be told, many children bite. And by doing so, they not only put their parents to the test, but the victim's parents as well, who will be far more upset by a bite than if their little one was hit, jostled or pushed to the ground.
Several reasons can explain why children bite. First off, between birth and 1 year of age, babies are on a mission to discover the world around them and to experiment with all their different senses, which can mean their mouth and teeth! They bite to find out what everything tastes like, the textures, their surroundings' reaction, etc. Until about 2 years old, if your little one bites, it is perhaps thanks to teething. Biting while teething helps alleviate the pain their gums are terribly suffering from. Once they reach the 2 years mark, many children go through a period of so-called "normal" aggressiveness due to their lack of knowledge on how to handle and deal with frustrations and conflicts other than with aggressive gestures. Indeed, this "normal" aggressiveness often decreases as the language skills develop. Hereafter are some of the main reasons why children bite overall:
- All eyes on me! Children who crave the attention of adults will bite in the hopes of getting this much desired attention.
- When feeling threatened, some kids will bite in order to defend themselves.
- If another child does it, then it must be cool! Some will chomp just to mimic what they see in their surroundings.
- Some children will bite to obtain what they want. It is their way of expressing themselves when they find themselves being refused something or when they want to put their hands on something.
- Last but not least (and perhaps the most shocking of all), to express a loving impulse! Doesn't feel very lovey-dovey when you're at the other end receiving the love bite but indeed, children do use biting to express positive emotions.
Even though this aggressiveness is considered somewhat "normal", it shouldn't, nevertheless, be interpreted as a sign that the child is evil or delinquent! On the other hand, although considered being a "normal" behavior, it doesn't mean it should be taken lightly and without any intervention. Our job as a parent is to teach the child that aggression directed against others is not acceptable and that there are other ways to defend oneself, express frustration or manage conflicts with friends and loved ones.
My boyfriend and I eventually ran out of tools in dealing with this matter. And one of our biggest mistakes was to bite our son back to demonstrate how it feels to be bitten. Back then we were naïve. We actually thought it was a god idea. Wrong. Little did we know that since we are portrayed as a role model by our son, biting back is a highly inadequate action that only encourages and reinforces the behavior of biting others. By returning the biting favor, you are unconsciously sending out the message that when someone irritates or attacks you, biting is the way to go. Same goes for any other type of corporal punishment, such as the hitting for example.
Did you ever feel resourceless? Boy did we ever! Thankfully, our kiddo has never bitten anyone else other than my boyfriend and I, and hopefully it remains that way! But what if he did? What is a parent to do when his or her child crosses that dreadful line and bites other children? The first thing would be to act quickly by comforting and caring for the injured child. Afterwards we address the situation with our child, the biter. You call upon a time-out or reflection break (in a corner or on a chair), provided that it ends itself with an explanation as to why biting is unacceptable and what other means are at his disposal instead. You can then encourage your little one to go apologize to the child he assaulted and invite him to offer comfort to the other child with a hug or kiss, or lending him a toy. For some children, this intervention will only need to be repeated once or twice before the biting stops. For others, a bit more patience will be required before seeing any results.
Another form of intervention that may be effective in the not too long to long term is to help your child develop his language. Whenever you notice he is experiencing frustration due to the actions of another child, help him put his feelings into words. For example, you can encourage your little one to say "no" or "stop, I don't like that" to a bothersome friend. It's also a great idea to instruct your child to seek the help of a teacher or caregiver when a conflict with a friend erupts. To sum it up, the child is to be encouraged to use his mouth to speak and express himself, rather than to bite others!
If you chose the approach of putting your child aside along with a firm "no" to eliminate the agressive behavior, ensure to always reinforce positive behaviors. Thus, make sure he learns what he must do and not just what he shouldn't. In all, the best way to guarantee your child ceases to bite is to intervene upon the first incident. Here are a few more helpful tips to help you through this, every now and then, arduous process.
- Ensure no one around is laughing or treating the behavior as a game.
- Take action immediately. Stay calm, do not overreact nor go overboard on the explaining. An excessive reaction may backfire and solely encourage an attention seeking child to bite even more.
- Speak clearly to him. Look him in the eye and say quietly, but firmly "I don't like it when you bit other people!". Put some emphasis on the harm he has done by telling him he has hurt the other person and that he or she is crying. If your little one's vocabulary is still very limited, say simply "We don't bite!".
- When the dust settles back down and things are back to normal, give your child a brief, simple explanation of the incident and its repercussions. You can let him know for example, that you acknowledge that he was angry but that biting hurts people and he shouldn't do it to.
- If your child bites again (which may very well happen), take him immediately away from the other children. Make it a clear point that he will not be allowed to play with others if he bites them, because it hurts!
With regards to preventing your child from biting repeatedly, you must first and foremost try to comprehend what prompts him to do so by relying on the signs he provides you with. Ask yourself the why, what, when, who and how. Remember that toddlers tend to be more aggressive when they are tired, frustrated, excited and hungry. On that account, consider the situation and try to identify the conditions that seem to have been the cause of his behavior. Within the week following the incident, keep an eye on him. You may be able to react quickly and prevent a second biting attempt. All children ultimately learn not to bite, some simply take longer than others. Bear with patience, exhibit fimrness and always be straightforward... and everything will work out just fine! If my boy can get rid of this bad behavior, so can your boy or girl!