Babies and children love to explore with their mouths. Natural curiosity lends itself to almost anything being placed into their tiny mouths, so biting is a natural extension of this process. Over time, the biting may continue, but for different reasons. Let’s take a look at why babies and toddlers bite.
Babies and toddlers biting
Babies often use biting as a way of discovering cause-and-effect. For example, they may bite you to see how you react. Even if your reaction is negative, if they find it fascinating, they may try it again – just to see if it has the same effect. Not at all pleasant for a breastfeeding mum!
Under the age of three, children biting can be linked to feelings such as excitement, anger, stress or frustration. With limited vocabulary available to them, it is often easier for them to express their feelings through biting rather than coming up with words to explain.
Young children can also bite – or hit or pinch – because they are copying the behaviour of other children they have witnessed or mimicking something that has been done to them.
Biting in child care can be a stressful experience for everyone: the child being bitten, the biter, the carers and the parents. Here are some common reasons for children biting and some possible solutions that may help.
Baby and toddler biting is often a symptom of teething. During the teething process a baby’s gums can become tender and swollen causing discomfort. Often to relieve this pain and discomfort a child will seek something to chew on. Ensure that there are plenty of chewable toys, teething rings and rusks available for the child to chew.
Although it is natural for a child to explore through biting, they have to learn that it is not appropriate behaviour, nor is it a game. Tell a child immediately “no biting” or that “biting hurts”. Over time, help the child understand which items are okay to bite and what is off-limits.
Excitement or affection
Once again, if a child is overstimulated and biting as a way of showing excitement or affection, verbally announce that it is not okay. Instead, encourage them to hug or cuddle.
Lack of power or control
Some young children feel vulnerable and overwhelmed when in playgroups or if surrounded by older children. Taking a good bite of a closely placed pal is a basic way of the child trying to regain some control in an otherwise overwhelming situation. Remedy this by making sure the child is not exposed to new or overwhelming situations for too long, and be on the look out for older children who are domineering.
Try to identify what is causing the child stress and see if you can either eliminate it (if appropriate) or help find productive ways of dealing with the stress. It’s helpful to offer lots of cuddles and support at this time to help the child cope with their stress levels.
Even when in group situations, it’s important to make sure that a young child is given enough individual attention. Biting in child care can definitely be an attention seeking action. Carers can try and address this by making sure that they are available for the child if they need to ask a question, receive some attention, or show you something that they have discovered or created.
When a child bites for attention seeking purposes, though, it’s important that you don’t make too much of a fuss about it. If you do, the child may be fascinated by what they have caused and want to try it again!
What to do about babies and toddlers biting?
If your child or a child under your care bites, it is normal to feel embarrassed or distressed. It’s very important to stay calm however because, as above, giving the baby biting situation too much attention may cause further issues.
If it is a baby biting, give them a very clear verbal response such as “no biting” and remove their mouth from what they have bitten. If possible, move them away from their current location; this reinforces the idea that you want them removed from that type of behaviour. Make sure you repeat this behaviour if the baby bites again. When she behaves in a more positive way, make sure you praise her with lots of attention and affection.
If it is a toddler biting, stop her immediately, but try to ascertain why she is behaving this way. If it is for attention, make sure you don’t give in. Otherwise, the child may have achieved her goal. If she has bitten you, gently pull away from her so she knows that this sort of behaviour is not effective. If she has bitten someone else, like for the baby, remove the child away from the situation to reinforce that this behaviour is not on.
If the biting continues, stay calm and tell her how this behaviour makes you feel and that you don’t like it. Try to discover emotions attached to the biting by asking the child how they are feeling and what they may be wanting at this time.
If your child bites another child, however, it’s imperative that, after quickly removing your child from the situation, you tend to the child that is bitten and apologise immediately to the appropriate parties. Children who bite can sometimes be very distressing for another child and if this is the case, it may be helpful to send a short note or text to the parent apologising for the situation and indicating that you are trying to do something about it.
The main thing to remember is, along with the many other uncomfortable phases that children go through, that the biting phase will pass.
Sage Institute of Child Care – is more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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