Biting causes more upset feelings than any other behavior in child care. However, we know that biting is a typical part of development that many infants and toddlers go through.
So, why do infants and toddlers bite and what can we do about it as parents and caregivers?
From birth, babies are learning through their senses and by putting everything in their mouth. Learning about other people is no exception. In addition, infants from about 6 months on get a new tooth every couple of months and teething does not stop for toddlers until around age two. Because of this, infants and toddlers have a lot of teething pain, plus they lack language to tell you “Hey! My mouth hurts!” This can be frustrating for our children to go through. Learning by putting everything in their mouth, teething, lacking language and social skills creates a recipe for a biting disaster.
Knowing why infants and toddlers bite doesn’t always make it less frustrating, and regrettably, there is no magic wand. However, consistent messages from parents and caregivers, developmental support in language and social skills, and time is the right mixture for a biting solution!
The steps below can help anyone understand the cause of biting and figure out a solution for the biter as well as the victims.
Figure out why the child is biting.
Is it a lack of language? Social skills? Teething? Experimentation? Frustration? Attention? Cause and Effect, etc?
Address the problem
If you have determined that teething pain is the cause, then provide teethers or a wash cloth to chew on to cut down on the pain. If biting is happening when children are fighting over a toy, you may want to purchase multiples of those toys and/or be physically and emotionally present when children are playing together to anticipate biting behaviors.
Communicate that Biting is wrong
When biting does occur, tell the child in a firm voice “Teeth are not for biting. Biting hurts.” Remove the child away from the situation and comfort the victim.
Teach New Behavior
If your child is biting due to a lack of language, teach them the words to use when frustrated, upset, etc. If the biting is occurring in a social situation, teach all children the words and skills to enter into play, to play together cooperatively (alongside a caregiver!) and help children take turns. Teach the victim the skills to stand up for themselves as well.
Remember, it takes time, patience, and work to curb biting behaviors. If biting is getting out of hand and you or your child’s caregiver don’t know what else to do, then your Infant/Toddler Specialist can help. A specialist can come out and observe, talk to families and caregivers, and create a solution as a team to help support your child.
Written by Lauren George, Child Care Answers, Infant/Toddler Specialist.