July 17th, 2009
We at Southcenter Dental know that while it can be unsettling, biting behavior in very young children is certainly not uncommon. Infants bite as a way to explore their surroundings, or to try to relieve the pain of teething. Toddlers bite primarily as a form of communication, since they lack the language skills to vocalize feelings such as frustration, anger or fear. 2- and 3-year-old children often experience biting phases, which can cause trouble in social situations like day care and preschool.
(When children over the age of 3 bite – especially if it’s a frequent occurrence – it can be an indicator of a behavioral or emotional problem. If this is the case, we recommend talking to your family doctor for advice.)
In most cases, children stop biting on their own, once they learn that biting is not appropriate and find other ways to express their feelings. A clear response from parents and caregivers immediately after a biting incident will help a child learn to avoid this behavior. Following is a guide for how to respond when a child bites:
Stay calm. Don’t react to aggressive behavior with aggressive behavior.
If you were the one bitten, overreact to the bite, to show the child that the bite has caused you pain.
If another child was bitten, first turn your attention to him. Comfort him and check to see if the bite needs medical attention. Calm him down if he is upset.
Then, address the child who did the biting. Firmly state that biting is not allowed. Explain that biting causes pain, and that the other child is upset because he is hurt.
After the child has had some time to calm down, talk to him about why he bit, and address his feelings. Explain that we can express our feelings by talking about them, and not by biting.
If biting behavior persists, try using time-outs or removing toys from the child’s play area as negative consequences.
Never hit a child and never bite back to try to show the child that biting hurts. This type of response will teach the child that violence is ok and encourage violent behavior.
Parents and caregivers can help children understand that feelings are ok, and that there are better ways to respond to them than biting. There are many ways to teach your child appropriate emotional responses. Here are a few:
Talk to your child about feelings and encourage him to use words to express feelings.
Share your feelings, both happy and sad, with your child verbally, to provide a model for appropriate behavior.
Reinforce positive behavior; praise your child when he exhibits good social skills, such as sharing, being polite and showing patience.