It can be a truly confronting experience when you first notice your darling child attempting to take a mouthful of another person. As it happens, you’re not alone.
Biting is particularly common in children, especially toddlers. Studies show that nearly a quarter of all children will bite at some stage with most of these children growing out of it by the age of four. Most usually used as an outlet for frustration, biting tends to occur when your child is angry, upset or unable to resolve a situation.
Don’t fret, you’re not the first parent to deal with a biting child and there are a multitude of strategies to help you teach your little one that it isn’t okay to solve problems with their teeth. Here are a few hints to help you stop a biting child.
Identify Why Your Child is Biting
First it helps to identify why your child is biting. A child that bites because it garners them attention will require a different method of approach than say a child who bites out of frustration or anxiety. Children can bite for a variety of reasons. These can include biting for sensory feedback, biting as a means of expression (sometimes their little emotions are just too big for them. They bite as a means of expression and release when they get overwhelmed), biting out of frustration, as a means of defence or simply out of anger.
How to Tailor Your Response
Once you have identified why your child is biting, you can begin to tailor your response to it. It is important to always firmly explain to your child that biting is not acceptable (even if you feel that they have been provoked into biting). There is where you can begin to educate your child to express their upset or frustration in more socially acceptable outlets.
If your child bites out of anger, frustration or because they are upset, make it clear to your child that it is okay to have those emotions. However, it is not okay to bite. Where possible, remove them from the situation that is causing them to be upset. Speak clearly, firmly and with authority. Reiterate that biting is unacceptable and then engage your child in an active discussion about their behaviour, consequences and why they were frustrated, upset or angry.
If your child bites as a means of expression, it can be helpful to create an expression board for your child to use. When they move to bite, or if they have bitten, it is crucial to enforce to the child that biting is unacceptable. Guide them to use their expression board and to gesture to which emotion they are feeling. Are they sad, angry, excited? Have them identify how they are feeling and talk them through it. Emotion boards are used often by child counsellors, educators and carers. They are usually coloured picture boards with images clearly depicting particular emotions. They can be a very useful tool for children who are shy or become easily overwhelmed.
Remember these key tips in order to stop a child biting.
- Identify why they are biting.
- Try to minimise situations where a child will bite by recognising their triggers.
- Teach your child that it is wrong by being consistent. Use a firm, clear tone (try not to react with emotion) and express to your child that biting is wrong. “NO. Do not bite.” This is simple, but direct. Employ time away, or time out, as necessary to instil the message.
- Teach them to express themselves or self calm. Employ the use of an emotion board or teach them strategies to manage anger or frustration.
- Do not allow biting to garner the child attention and therefore become an effective tool to garner them control. Respond calmly, with authority and consistently.
- Praise good behaviour when you see it. Children respond instinctively to attention, whether it is good or bad. If your child is aware that they will garner more attention for themselves with good behaviour, they will actively seek to behave well. Be specific with your attention, for example praise them for excelling in a particular area “Look at you playing so well with your toys!” or for demonstrating a particular trait “You are being so lovely and sharing with the other kids.”
Above all, try not to let a biting child isolate you. Many parents find this one of the hardest hurdles to overcome and are absolutely horrified if their child bites another. As long as you remain calm and consistent with your approach, your child will learn that biting is unacceptable. Reach out and speak to other parents and if necessary seek help or a referral through your GP if you feel that your child’s biting is getting out of control.