My toddler is biting other children – what can I do?
You just got the call from your child’s day care regarding a biting incident involving your child. You are not exactly sure what caused the behavior or what to do about it. Take heart, Karen Bowman, a teli Developmental Specialist with years of experience in Early Intervention has helped numerous parents and their children to address the issue of biting. “While it is little comfort, biting is very common during the early years from ages 1-3, when a child has not fully developed an ability to communicate. But most importantly, there are strategies a parent can use to address the issue.”
Why do toddlers bite?
Babies and toddlers may bite for many reasons. “At this young age a child does not bite to be mean or cause pain. Instead the major reasons they bite may be closely tied to how they learn about their world, communicate as well as react to situations.” explains Karen. Some of the typical reasons for biting Karen sees when working with toddlers include:
- Exploring their environment through their mouths
- Getting attention through biting as a way to take back a toy from their playmate or sibling, or in order to gain an adult’s attention
- Unable to use words as they lack language skills to express strong feelings such as anger and frustration.
- Frustration whether due to a lack of sleep, fear in a new unfamiliar or stressful situation, they may act out through biting to relieve their stress.
- Seeking sensory input in which a child has an intensive craving for oral sensory experiences (biting, chewing, or sucking).
What can I do to stop my child from biting?
While each child and the reason they are biting is different, it is important that open communication and positive problem solving is used when dealing with your child’s behavior. “You must look at the total situation, what has led up to the instance and how those around your child react. Always avoid attaching the stigma of the word “biter” to a child, since the long-term effect can be very negative,” notes Karen.
To help understand what is causing the behavior and how to address it, Karen has shared the following strategies with parents:
- Observe and shadow your child – Do you notice the behavior occurring in specific situations such as new people, new environments, or when your child is particularly tired? If you see a pattern, begin to anticipate the situation and if possible prevent it. Making sure nap time routines are followed can be an enormous help. Additionally, using redirection techniques such as providing your child with more personal space and gradually introducing them to the new environment, can reduce the tension they may feel.
- Deal with the situation when it happens – Remove your child from a potential stressful situation to a place where they have time to calm down. Insure you are calm, but firm, using facial expressions such as frowns to communicate your concern along with simple phrases to express displeasure such as a firm “No” or “Stop, biting hurts.”
- Alternatives – Dependent on your child’s developmental stage, consider a tool box of alternatives such as suggesting the children “give each other space” or use of phrases such as “Please stop” or “That’s mine”.
When should you be concerned that the strategies aren’t working?
Karen’s strategies require repetition to help your child understand and adjust their behavior. If you are concerned that there is a more serious issue, you should share your concerns with your pediatrician. “Through preliminary evaluation, your pediatrician can better understand your child’s behavior. For some children a sensory processing factor may be causing their biting,” explains Karen. “But there is good news! teli can help! A thorough evaluation combined with Early Intervention support from a Developmental Specialist can help to assess your child’s unique challenges and design the most appropriate therapy to help them to change their behavior.”