Biting is a typical behavior often seen in infants, toddlers, and 2-year olds. As children mature, gain self-control, and develop problem-solving skills, they usually outgrow this behavior. While not uncommon, biting can be an upsetting and potentially harmful behavior. It’s best to discourage it from the very first episode. This article will help you to understand the reasons young children bite and give you some ideas and strategies for responding appropriately.
Why do young children bite?Some children bite instinctively, because they have not developed self-control. For example, when 3-year-old Marcus grabs a doll from his 2-year-old sister Gina, her first response is to bite him and grab the doll. She doesn’t stop to think about other ways to act or the result of her actions. But there are many other reasons why children may bite.
A child might bite to
Infants learn about the world around them by exploring it with their hands, eyes, and mouths. But infants often need help to learn what they should and shouldn’t bite.
If your infant takes an experimental bite on a mother’s breast or grandpa’s shoulder, stay calm and use clear signals to communicate that it is not okay for one person to bite another. A firm “no” or “no biting!” is an appropriate response.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Toddlers have many strong emotions that they are just learning to manage. Toddlers may bite to express anger or frustration or because they lack the language skills needed to express their feelings.
Biting is less common in preschoolers than toddlers. When a preschooler bites, it may be due to something at home or at their child care program that is causing the child to be upset, frustrated, confused, or afraid. A preschooler may also bite to get attention or to act in self-defense.
Follow the steps below with both toddlers and preschoolers.
What strategies can I use to help my child overcome a habit of biting?Here are some strategies for addressing a child’s biting habit.
For further reading
Banks, R., & S. Yi. 2007. “Dealing with Biting Behaviors in Young Children.” Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting. http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/poptopics/biting.html.
The Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). “Responding to Your Child’s Bite.” www.vanderbilt.edu/csefel/documents/biting-parenting_tool.pdf.
Crisalli, L. 2008. “All about Biting.” Exchange 184: 61–63. http://www.ccie.com/library/5018461.pdf.
University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies. “Ouch! That hurts! – Biting.” (Growing ideas tip sheet). http://umaine.edu/ccids/files/2009/12/biting120309.pdf.
Zero to Three. “Why Do Toddlers Bite? Finding the Right Response.” www.zerotothree.org/child-development/challenging-behavior/chew-on-this-resources-on-biting.html.
Source: Adapted from D. Koralek, "Understanding and Responding to Biting,” In Classroom Strategies to Promote Children’s Social and Emotional Development, 135–138. Lewisville, NC: Kaplan Press, 1999. © 1999 The Devereux Foundation, Villanova, Pennsylvania.
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