Children who bite can be a great concern to child care facilities as well as to the parents of the biter and the child being bitten. While it can seem aggressive and upsetting to all those involved, it is a relatively common occurrence with children from their toddler to preschool years although different aged children will bite for various reasons.
Why do Toddlers Bite?
When a toddler bites an adult or another child, it is often a result of anger or frustration. At this age children often are still unable to verbally communicate their feelings to their parents or caregivers. When they feel an unusual amount of stress, frustration, or a moment of anger, they may simply react by biting the individual they are closest to. This is very similar to when children throw tantrums because they feel that they are not communicating what they want effectively. Due to the possible damage from a bite and misunderstanding of the reason behind biting, many parents will overreact to a child who bites than one that simply throws a tantrum, when in reality they are the same behaviour.
Why do Preschool Age Children Bite?
While biting is less common once a child reaches the age of three, it still does happen. A child at this age will be able to communicate when they are angry or stressed, and this is not often the reason for the biting behaviour. Preschool age children will often bite for one of two main reasons.
They Feel Threatened
Young children have not had as much experience with threatening situations by this time in their life, so they often are not equipped with the tools to respond appropriately. If they feel that another child is acting aggressive toward them or feel unsafe with them, they may bite them as a self-defense mechanism. They learn quickly that a bite will hurt and most likely cause the person to leave.
The other reason three and four-year-olds may be biting other children is to get attention. When children are younger, they do not often discriminate between positive and negative attention and will often try ways to get the attention of their parents or caregivers even if it is a negative response. This may be the case with your child if you notice that after time or attention is being spent on someone or something else they may out of nowhere bite a sibling or other child. This is their way of bringing themselves back into your focus quickly.
Tips for Handling a Child Who Bites
- Never bite them back – While many parents feel that this will teach the child that biting can hurt so they will not do it again it simply does not get processed in a young child’s brain in that way. This will simply create a new behaviour for them to model as they learn by mimicking what their parents do.
- Try to discover the root of the frustration or anxiety – If your toddler is biting try to find out what in their environment might have changed to cause them stress or find ways to help them communicate more easily with you such as through sign language or picture exchange communication.
- Remove any threatening situations – If your child is biting in response to a child they feel threatened by, it is best to try to separate them from any possible unsupervised contact so you can make sure your child feels safe and secure.
- Help your child communicate their need for attention – If your child’s biting is due to attention seeking behaviour, find ways to let your child tell you they need a little more attention or set up schedules where they can count on some regular one-on-one time.
It is important to remember that even though biting is a significant concern for parents and caregivers, it is not an abnormal behaviour by any means and does not mean that your child will be overly aggressive or angry later in life. As with any other behaviour, with a little guidance, your child will be able to grow out of it and end up having perfectly healthy social relationships with other children throughout their life.