Is Your Child Biting Others?

Biting is often a touchy subject but parents will be relieved to know that biting is a common phase which most children between the ages of 1-3 go through. You should become concerned if your child resorts to biting other individuals and/or the biting becomes too frequent such as several times in a week.

To effectively address a biting incidence it is important to first understand what triggered your child to bite. Some of the most common reasons for biting include:

  1. Teething which will result in them biting to find some relief for their irritated gums.
  2. Curiosity which could lead to them investigating their new surroundings or items by putting them in their mouth which eventually leads to biting. Similarly this curiosity could also lead them to bite someone just to see what happens unaware of the unintentional harm it causes.
  3. Feelings of neglect. Children may also bite if they feel neglected and are looking to get their parents’ or caregivers’ attention.
  4. Lack of fully developed communication skills. Children especially toddlers, are unable to process their emotions and end up relaying their feelings of frustration, hunger, anger and/or exhaustion among others through biting. This is especially true for children who do not yet have fully developed communication skills and hence are unable to effectively communicate how they feel.
  5. To show affection. You might be surprised to find out that some kids bite to show affection. This is also due to the lack of fully developed communication skills. So yes, if you are all snuggled up and you feel a sharp bite it might just be your child trying to show some affection.
  6. Last but not least, some children bite to protect themselves. It is therefore important to understand the root cause of every biting incidence so as to identify the correct way to approach the matter.

So what is the best way to approach the matter of biting?

  1. For teething children always give them a teether to play with to help soothe their irritating gums.
  2. Make a feeding, play and nap schedule for your child to help minimize the chances of tantrum induced biting. If you go out to play always carry some snacks and drink for them should they get hungry. (Read our article on Dealing with Tantrums).
  3. Avoid labelling your child as a “biter” as this may just fuel the bad behaviour. Also learn how best to react to your child should you find them biting another. At the time you might feel angry or embarrassed but it is important to first compose yourself before you approach your child.
  4. Always keep an eye out when your child is out playing with other children if they have a tendency to bite. This way, should you notice that they are about to bite or are getting agitated you can find a way to divert their attention to something else or remove them from the situation.
  5. If your child is older, talk to them and find out why they were biting in the first place. Talk to them about why it is not nice to bite and how that affects the person who they bite. Then discuss other ways in which they can respond to whatever it was that led them to bite. It is also not advised to beat a child who bites as this might lead to replacing one bad habit with another. Time out or temporarily taking their favourite toy might be a better approach.
  6. Also remember to pay attention to the child who was bitten after you understand why they were bitten. For example, if they were bitten because they hit the biter then you could try saying “I am sorry Alice bit you but you did hit her and hitting is not nice. It is painful…” Remember to also give a suitable punishment to both parties as advised earlier if you realise the biting was as a result of a negative action. However, if there was no negative action from the bitten individual that led to the bite then be sure to get your child to apologise after they have calmed down.
  7. Lastly, ensure you always set aside time to spend with your child (and if you have many children plan some group activities as well as equally distributed individual time) to avoid having one feel neglected. This could be during morning breakfast, story time in the evening before bed or even some weekend activities.

Remember that habits don’t change overnight, so continue to apply the above tips, however if you still find it difficult to control your child’s biting, do not be afraid to ask for assistance from a child psychologist or counsellor. They might be able to help you get to the root cause of the problem and find a suitable solution.

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