When you're 2-years-old and another child is waving a toy in your face, it makes complete sense to chomp on his finger as a way to warn him to "back off." And, it's usually effective. However, for parents who have a child who bites, it can be problematic. Children are often expelled from daycare for biting, not to mention no one wants their child hurting other kids. Luckily, there are some steps parents can take to remedy biting.
Reasons Kids Bite
If your toddler has bitten another child, don't worry. It's actually quite normal. Mary Rooney, a psychologist from the Child Mind Institute who specializes in the treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety and mood disorders, says, "Although biting other children is socially unacceptable, it is a developmentally normative behavior between the ages of 1 and 3. In fact, most children will bite another child at least once during the toddler years." She states that there are several possible reasons children bite. "Biting may occur when the child is frustrated, unable to control a situation, seeking attention or simply curious about the kind of reaction biting will provoke."
Use Your Words
Kids who lack the verbal ability to say, "Please stop doing that," or "I'm mad," may benefit from language development. Jennifer Little, a former school teacher who has her doctorate in educational psychology, explains that when children can't articulate their feelings, they often resort to biting. "They don't usually need speech therapy (which is basically articulation) but need language development instruction." Child therapists can help kids learn how to communicate their feelings if biting is a persistent problem. Parents can also assist with teaching kids how to say their feelings, instead of acting them out.
Simply telling kids, "Don't bite," isn't likely to resolve the problem. Instead, parents need to teach kids how to deal with frustration or how to solve problems without resorting to biting. For kids who are learning to use their words, encourage them to say, "Stop, I don't like that," instead of biting. For kids who may need help with this, teach them to get help from an adult. Little says, "You have to teach the child behavior patterns that are appropriate." She suggests saying to your child, “When you are angry, you need to come to me. Biting is not allowed.”
Consequences for Biting
If your child bites, it is important to provide an immediate consequence that will deter the child from biting again. Rooney recommends that parents, "respond immediately by saying 'no biting' in a firm voice, giving a brief, immediate consequence (e.g., one or two minutes of time-out), and providing attention and comfort to the child who was bitten." By using consistent consequences it can help the child associate biting with time-out, which can prevent the child from repeating the behavior.
There are times that biting may require professional intervention. Sometimes kids with developmental delays, mental health issues or other behavioral problems may continue biting past preschool age. Little says, "Usually biters will be identified and worked with by kindergarten."
Rooney agrees that professional help is the best option for parents when biting is a persistent problem. "If biting does not decrease over time or persists beyond the age of 3, it may indicate a significant problem with expressing feelings or controlling impulses. Seeking help from a pediatrician or child psychologist is recommended in these cases," says Rooney.