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You may by one of the “lucky” parents who receive a report about your toddler that you just don’t want to hear: “Your child bit little Henry today.” Parents’ reactions to this report tend to vary: “No, my sweet child would never do such a thing!” to shock and horror, “What kind of savage has my child become, biting another human being?” The reaction of the parent whose child has been bitten is usually no less dramatic, “I can still see the marks of that monster’s teeth.” If you question your own child about the matter, you may be told, “He bit me first.”
It’s generally not helpful to try to determine who really “started it” or who first said what to whom. What is most beneficial is to make it perfectly clear in a no-nonsense tone of voice that biting another person is never acceptable under any circumstance. Biting behavior usually peaks between two and three years of age and then starts to decline as verbal abilities improve.
To stop biting behavior, it’s not enough to treat the symptoms without dealing with the underlying causes. Childcare experts understand that at two years of age, a child does not yet know how to control their feelings when they get over-excited, angry, or frustrated. So, the child may hit, kick or bite the child who upsets them. All normal children experience feelings of anger, frustration, and aggression at some time. However, they must learn to control these impulses in order to avoid aggressive behavior.
How do you stop your child from biting?
Provide closer supervision. The child who bites other children needs more supervision and structure. The person who supervises must watch for signs of anger, frustration, or tiredness, all of which often precedes biting behavior.
Intervene early. Many children’s problems can be better controlled or prevented by early intervention. For example, if you see the child who bites being teased or provoked, don’t wait for trouble to occur. Separate the children from one another as soon as possible.
Reprimand calmly but firmly. Whenever a child bites another, it is important to reprimand as calmly and firmly as possible: “You must never bite another child. That hurts.” Quietly then take the child to another part of the room to settle down and get them under control. If they continue to yell or scream, it is best to ignore these behaviors as much as possible
Teach alternative behaviors. In dealing with their feelings of anger or frustration, they must ultimately learn to express their feelings verbally rather than physically. That is a skill that will need much practice. It is also one which will usually improve as children get older and can better express themselves verbally.
Thoughtful management of the problem, rather than severe punishment. This will improve the likelihood of successfully changing the child’s behavior.
In summary, among normal two-year-olds, most cases of biting are due to the child’s lack of self-control. The child who bites can usually be helped by closer supervision, early intervention, calm but firm reprimands, and by learning alternative ways of dealing with feelings of anger and frustration. Make sure you also work closely with relatives, daycare providers and individuals that have close contact with your child and can help reinforce and encourage proper behavior. If the biting behaviors continue for more than a few weeks, it would be wise to consult a pediatrician or child psychologist.
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