Have you ever arrived to collect your child from preschool and been told that they have been bitten by one of their peers? Perhaps your child has been the biter!
Biting is one of those behaviours that be both surprising and distressing for parents and teachers – not to mention the children who are on the receiving end of a ‘chomp’.
Although biting is a common behaviour among young children, it can be alarming and may raise concerns about their social development. Here, Kids First’s speech pathologists explore why children bite and provide strategies to effectively manage these behaviours.
Exploration and teething
Infants and toddlers explore the world through their mouths, and biting is often an extension of this natural exploration. Sometimes, teething can cause discomfort, leading children to bite as a means of relieving the pain.
Communication and expression
Many young children may lack the verbal skills to express their needs, wants, or frustrations. Biting can become a way for them to communicate their emotions. For some children, biting can be a very effective way to seek attention, express anger or frustration, or assert themselves when they don’t have the expressive language ability to convey their wants and needs.
Overstimulation or frustration
When some children feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with their emotions or sensory input, biting may serve as a release valve for their pent-up energy or frustration. In a moment of high excitement, disappointment or fatigue, their words may fail them and they resort to a bite instead.
Stay calm and respond consistently
As much as it hurts when your child bites, it is crucial to remain calm when addressing biting incidents. Reacting with anger or frustration can inadvertently reinforce the behaviours. Instead, respond consistently by firmly and calmly telling your child, “No. Biting hurts. Biting is not okay.”
Observe triggers and patterns
Pay attention to situations or circumstances that may trigger your child’s biting behaviours. Is biting more likely to occur when your child is tired, hungry, or overstimulated? Does the biting begin when your child has to do things that are hard, such as sharing or ending a game that they have been enjoying? By identifying patterns, you can ‘short circuit’ situations that might end up with a bite by anticipating and redirecting your child’s behaviours before a bite occurs.
Supervise and intervene proactively
If your child has started to bite others in moments of high emotion, stress or excitement, it makes sense to keep a very close eye on your son or daughter when they are in social settings or around other children. If you notice signs of frustration or escalating tension, intervene promptly and redirect their attention to a different activity. It may be necessary to remove your little person altogether so that they can calm down in an environment that is quieter and less socially and emotionally demanding. Going home early is always better than dealing with the distress of another child who has been bitten and their (understandably concerned) grown-up!
Set clear and consistent boundaries
Establish clear rules and boundaries regarding biting, emphasising that biting is not an acceptable behaviour. Consistency is key in reinforcing these boundaries, so ensure that all caregivers, early educators and family members are on the same page and using the same words when they respond to your child.
Teach alternative ways to communicate
Since biting is often a form of communication, help your child develop alternative methods to express their needs and emotions. Encourage the use of words, gestures, or appropriate actions like pointing or handing an object instead of biting.
Encourage empathy and positive reinforcement
Help your child develop empathy by explaining how biting hurts others and encouraging them to consider the feelings of others. Additionally, offer praise and positive reinforcement when your child expresses themselves appropriately without resorting to biting.
When a child is unable to use words to express their feelings, thoughts or needs, they will usually behave in a way that helps them to get their message across.
While biting is rarely seen as a positive behaviour by an adult or a peer, it can certainly be an effective tactic for a child who is struggling to connect with others.
If your child has begun to bite you or other people, ask yourself ‘What is my child trying to tell me in these moments?”
If biting happens as a result of sensory overstimulation, emotional regulation, or due to your child not being able to communicate, extra support from a speech pathologist or occupational therapist may be very helpful right now.
If your child has resorted to biting other people, getting advice from professionals could help.
Your child’s early educators will be able to offer information about when and why your child bites other children, and of course, it will be important to collaborate with your child’s teachers to ensure that the strategies you use at home are consistent across all of your child’s environments.
Your family doctor may also be a help resource as you investigate if there are any health challenges contributing to your child’s behaviour, such as mild hearing loss caused by frequent colds.
Speech pathologists and occupational therapists, can also help you understand why your child behaves the way we do. Through their assessments and expertise, they can identify if emotional regulation, sensory processing, or communication challenges are behind your child’s biting behaviours.
Kids First’s experienced therapists have supported hundreds of families to overcome the challenges of children who bite. Contact us on 9938 5419 if we can help your child
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