Children and BITING… a situation that many families have more than likely been thrust into, whether it be from their own children biting or from having been bitten. It is important to remember that biting behaviours are not a reflection on parenting practices, and biting can suddenly start happening, particularly between the ages of one to three years. Rest assured though, biting behaviours are usually shortlived, and often cease, just as quickly as they started.
Whilst it may be difficult to understand why the actual biting occurs, there are in fact various reasons – teething, exploring their world through sensory means, lack of language and social development, to gain instant gratification through reaction (receiving the toy they wanted), excitement, a new sibling, to share limited self-control, powerlessness and developmental age.
Young children, particularly if they are entering into more social gatherings, such as playgroups, swimming lessons, library sessions, early childhood education are navigating and exploring a much larger world than they may have been used to and do not yet have the social and emotional, nor the language skills to effectively communicate their needs. Situations can quickly change, e.g. more children engaging in same the experience, which may lead to emotionally loaded moments of being overwhelmed. Due to their age and thus minimal social/emotional development, this sometimes results in biting.
Older children (three or four year old) too may suddenly bite. As these children are becoming more aware of social and emotional skills and are developing empathy for others, they are able to understand that it is socially unacceptable and hurts. Therefore, they can take responsibility and reflect upon different strategies they could employ in an emotionally charged moment such as explaining their needs.
So what can you do to if your child bites?
· Provide consistent responses using a tone and manner that reflect the situation
· Tell your child, in a calm but firm manner “biting hurts,” “we use our teeth for eating.”
Using simple language and keeping the message short helps the child understand and resolve the matter.
Remaining calm allows you to deal with the situation while demonstrating self-control to your child
· Provide reassurance to your child and, if possible, encourage him/her to comfort the child that has been bitten. Talking about the pain that has occurred may help them develop awareness of their actions
· Role model other ways to respond in emotionally charged situations, e.g. using basic words such as “stop,” “mine,” “I am playing with that”
· Redirecting your child to a completely different experience such as drawing, construction, playdough helps diffuse the situation