Most parents are used to babies gnawing on something when they’re teething. But when your older child bites you or another child, it can be incredibly alarming. Try not to panic, though. Biting is usually just a phase that every child goes through. There are ways to curb biting behaviors in your child and it starts with understanding why children bite in the first place.
Understand the Reasons Why Children Bite
There are a number of reasons why children bite. According to WebMD, children aren’t usually biting to intentionally hurt someone but instead are seeking to express one of the following emotions:
- They’re in pain.
- They’re exploring their world.
- They’re looking for a reaction.
- They’re craving attention.
- They’re frustrated.
If there’s an underlying emotional need (or even a condition like autism) behind your child’s biting tendencies, getting to the bottom of it and meeting those needs is the first step to solving the problem. Talk to your child’s doctor or a psychologist if you think the biting stems from an emotional issue.
Clearly and Firmly Communicate that Biting is Not Okay
If you want to curb biting behaviors in your child, you have to be clear and firm that biting is not okay. “When we address the biting behavior, we tend to get down to the child’s eye level and gently stroke their hand and calmly say, ‘Biting hurts. Gentle touches.,’ ” says Celeste Dills, M.A.Ed. But she says this isn’t the best way to handle the problem. “We want to avoid the perception of too much positive attention. Quickly respond to the child who has bitten by saying (in a firm tone), ‘No. Biting hurts.’ “
Give Your Child Plenty of Alternative Sensory Experiences
Another reason a child may bite is that they find it calms them down.
“Often the biting behavior is not due to aggression but rather by an imbalance to the sensory system and poor self-regulation. Chewing and biting are sensory activities. They tap into the proprioceptive system that registers pressure in the joints. The resulting information goes to the brain for processing, which has a regulating effect on the nervous system. In other words, the child bites because he finds it soothing. Knowing this gives us clues to what we can do to address the child’s real sensory needs and reduce biting.”Child Development Institute
So if you want to train your child not to bite, try giving them other activities that use their 5 senses. Sensory activities are soothing without being destructive like biting is. Some sensory activities you could try with your child include:
- Playing with clay, playdough, or kinetic sand
- Ripping paper/crumpling tissue paper
- Hiking through the woods
- Jumping on a trampoline or in a bounce house
- Playing with water
- Blowing bubbles
- Climbing at the playground
- Stomping in rain puddles
If your child is biting purely out of a need to chomp on something, you could provide them with some teethers, frozen popsicles, chewing gum and other items they are allowed to chew on. These alternatives should help curb biting behaviors. Just be sure to discuss your child’s behavior with your doctor/dentist to double-check that this is actually what your child needs and there aren’t underlying mental/emotional health issues that need to be addressed.
When a child bites others, it is worrisome and can make us feel embarrassed. Rest assured, however, that your child’s biting tendencies are just a part of growing up. Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of what is causing the biting, you can train your child not to bite by teaching them that biting hurts and offering alternative sensory and oral experiences.