Does Your Child Bite? Know Why

Many parents find it difficult to understand why a child bites. However, it is important to understand that this is a temporary phase and it can be overcome.

By Pamela Daniel  • 7 min read

Does Your Child Bite? Know Why

A child finds it very hard to communicate what he or she feels. They usually rely on actions or physical attributes to communicate their thought process. Biting is one way children express their feelings and needs.

Why does a child bite?

Clinical psychologist Stanley Goldstein suggests that is important for adults to pay close attention to be aware of what could prompt your child to bite. As a parent, trying to understand the trigger points and the underlying cause as to why a child is very important. 

  • Communicating frustration: Children lack linguistic skills to communicate how they feel when a toy is snatched from them or when they need adult attention. In these situations, they are unable to communicate the intensity of their feelings and biting acts as a medium to express themselves.
  • Experimenting with cause and effect: As a toddler, kids are like sponges when it comes to learning the cause and effect of experience and reactions. When a toddler bites another child, this will create a whirlwind of emotions by the child who has been bitten. In most cases, there will be episodes of crying and screaming and in rare cases, the child will laugh or even bite back. This string of reactive emotions seems very interesting to a toddler and he experiments it on other children to watch how differently they react.
  • Coping with change: Biting also acts as a coping mechanism for some toddlers. This could be due to a sudden change in a situation they might face and their immediate response is to bite. These changes could be going to a new playschool, school, entry of a new sibling, changing homes.
  • Overwhelmed by lights and sounds: Overstimulation by heavy lighting and loud sounds can trigger anxiety in a child. In these situations, toddlers display their emotions by biting.
  • Teething: Teething is another cause for biting. A child will feel the need to release pressure during teething. Biting can also occur due to sensory exploration.

For many children, biting acts as a substitute for communication. "Biting at this age is not malicious," says Aubyn Stahmer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Children's Hospital, in San Diego. "Toddlers don't have the language skills to express how they feel, so they bite to create a stir, to express excitement, or to say that they are frustrated, anxious, or bored."

What to do when your child bites?

When child bites, parents need to keep their cool and not shout. Though biting could lead to serious implications, it is always important for adults to remember that children are channelling big emotion in their small minds. 

How to stop children from biting?

As per experts, it is important for parents to understand as to why the child bites in order to take corrective action and to prevent biting. Here are few tips to prevent a child from biting:

  1. Distract your child with another toy or situation. Take them for a walk or to the playground when the parent recognizes trigger points.
  2. Teach empathy to your child to learn aspects such as sharing and it will help the child to understand how it feels when another child is bitten.
  3. Stay away from overstimulation. This could be loud sounds and bright lights should be kept to a minimum. Of course, children do love lights and music but keeping in mind the duration of the same is also very important.
  4. Teach them how to react to words. Try and put into words what your child is trying to communicate. If your child is old enough to pronounce words, try and positively re-enforce few words that will enable him to display what he/she feels.
  5. Release pent-up energy in your child. Energy levels vary from child to child. If you feel your child has too much of idle time or screen-time, it is necessary to have outdoor playtime for physical activity. On the other hand, ensure that the child is well-rested after a tiring day at school or daycare. Sufficient sleep is vital as well.
  6. Positive re-enforcement plays a vital role in child biting. Be your child’s cheerleader. Punishment can cause violent behaviour. Instead, try and talk to your child about what went wrong and always offer a firm warm bear-hug.

When to seek professional help?

Biting is common during toddlerhood. However, if the biting does not decrease despite positive re-enforcement and other techniques, it is important to seek professional guidance from the medical office or a child psychologist. In this way, there is medical advice to identify triggers and guidance to resolve child biting.

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