Why does my child bite?

During infancy, children find satisfaction in sucking and biting. Until about eighteen months of age, they bite and chew on toys, household objects, and other things they find in their explorations.

Sometimes a baby will bite other people, especially when her gums are sore from teething. Although such a bite can be painful, parents should remember that she is not intentionally trying to hurt. Occasionally, a very young child may bite her mother during nursing. Mothers may be so alarmed at this that they wonder if they should start weaning, but such a drastic step isn’t necessary. If the mother takes the breast away from her biting child and says “no” firmly, the child will learn quickly.

An infant’s innocent biting is very different from the deliberate, frustrated biting of a two-year-old. Sometimes a toddler’s anger cannot be expressed through words, and she impulsively bites. Parents of toddlers who bite don’t often feet understanding and accepting about the problem—and rightly so. When a child bites, parents should set firm limits, saying, “I don’t want you biting anyone,” “I know you’re really angry, but you can’t bite”, “You’ll have to find another way to let me know you’re angry”, or simply, “I won’t let you bite”. Letting her know immediately and firmly that biting is unacceptable is important.

If talking doesn’t solve the problem, parents of a biting toddler or preschooler should move off a distance from their child, letting her know with a quiet but firm tone that they’re angry with her and don’t want to be near her when she bites. Parents also can sit her on a step or in her room for a short while. Since children often change their behavior in order to please their parents, some children will stop biting so they can feel accepted again.

Occasionally you may be tempted to cure your child’s biting habit by biting her back to “show her what it feels like”. But biting a child back is wrong. First, you give a mixed message: you tell her not to bite, but then do it yourself. Second, she can’t put herself in another person’s place and doesn’t understand that the pain she feels from a bite is the same pain that she inflicts. You can teach appropriate behavior best by setting limits, being a good model for your child, and reminding her how to act in socially acceptable ways.

If she continually bites, she’s probably troubled by something deeper than momentary frustration. In such a case, admonitions and firm limits usually won’t work. Since biting is a sign of anger, frustration, and aggression, try to discover the cause of her behavior. Perhaps there is stress in the family or not enough attention for her at home. If you can’t find the cause of continued biting, seek advice from your pediatrician or mental health professional who can explore possible areas of tension in the family.

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