#FridayFAQs | Toddlers and Biting : Strategies and Tips for Parents

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Question : My child has turned into a chronic biter !

Our Answer : Biting is a very common behavior among toddlers, which means there are a lot of concerned parents out there. To set the stage for effectively addressing this challenge, avoid calling or thinking of your child as a “biter” and ask others not to use this term. Labelling children can actually lead to them taking on the identity assigned to them, which can intensify biting behaviour rather than eliminate it.
Also the biting happens without any warning. The child does not show any signs that he or she is about to bite. In this case, the presence of a supervising adult also doesn’t help. The action is quick and done in a jiffy.

Shaming and harsh punishment do not reduce biting

Children bite in order to cope with a challenge or fulfill a need. For example, your child may be biting to due to lack of verbal skills to express a strong feeling (like frustration), communicate a need for personal space (maybe another child is standing too close) or to satisfy a need for oral stimulation. Trying your best to understand the underlying cause of the biting will help you develop an effective response.

What to do when my child bites

First, keep your own feelings in check. When a toddler bites, you might feel frustrated, infuriated, annoyed, embarrassed, and/or worried. All of these feelings are normal, but responding when you are in an intense emotional state is usually not a good idea. So calm yourself before you respond.

In a firm, matter-of-fact voice (but not angry or yelling), say: “No biting. Biting hurts. Comment on how the other child is feeling: Look, Saira is crying. She is crying because you bit her. Biting hurts.” Keep it short, simple and clear.

Next, shift your attention to the child who was bitten. Often when a child bites, adults pay a lot of attention to him or her. This is usually negative attention, but it is still very reinforcing and can actually cause the biting behavior to continue, rather than stop. When parents shift their focus and energy to the child who was bitten, they clearly communicate that biting does not result in more attention. Showing concern and sympathy for the child who was bitten also teaches empathy.

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When to Seek Help

While biting is very common behavior, it usually stops by age 3 to 3 ½. If your toddler continues to bite, or the number of bites increases instead of decreases over time, it is probably a good idea to request an assessment from a child development specialist.

This professional can help you identify the reason for the biting and develop a strategy for addressing the behavior. Remember, there is no quick fix. Over time, and with assistance, your child will stop biting and use more appropriate ways to express her needs.

What absolutely WILL NOT work to stop biting?

Shaming or harsh punishment do not reduce biting, but they do increase your child’s fear and worry—which can actually increase biting incidents. Aggressive responses like these also do not teach your child the social skills he or she needs to cope with the situations that trigger biting.

Biting your child back, which some might suggest, is not a useful response. There is no research to show this behavior reduces biting. However, it does teach your child that it’s okay to bite people when you are upset!

Happy Parenting.
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