My child is a biter — the other day he bit me, hard. So I bit him back. He wasn’t happy, however it did stop him from biting! My husband thinks what I did was horrible but I’m happy with myself because it worked! What are your thoughts?
Sometimes as a parent, we feel accomplished when we find a way to directly stop an inappropriate behaviour. However, when we handle these behaviours, we need to ask ourselves: Is this the way I want my children to respond if someone younger and smaller is biting them? Children learn by observing and mimicking; they learn from the way we parent them. The trust relationship we build with our children is the foundation to life long connection, relationship, positive development and a meaningful life.
Why do children bite? Biting in babies and toddlers is a common behaviour.
Babies use their mouth to explore the world and as soon as they start teething, biting might happen as they find great relief in chewing on things. However, they do need to learn what they can and cannot bite. A teether is always a great tool to have handy.
In toddlers, biting is usually a communication tool. Before they have enough words and know how to use them, they might bite in order to say “move away from me”, “give me back this toy”, “your voice is to loud”, “I am so excited”, etc. The goal here is to replace biting by an effective communication skill.
In children over 3 years old, biting might be used when they feel powerless or scared (ex. in a fight). Biting at this age might tell us that the child has difficulties with expressing feelings or self-control. In some children, whatever their age, biting and/or chewing might be a sensory need and might need specialized attention to help them appropriately channel this need.
How should we react to children who bite? A firm “No, it hurts” with a matching facial expression should always be used. Then let them know what they can bite on such as a teether, food, a special toys or a blanket. For a child who is using biting as a communication tool, try to help them use words instead.
So remember, biting serves a purpose and to effectively stop it, we need to investigate why children bite and help them replace it with appropriate channels.
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Our Parenting Column is answered by Agnès Dupin of Family Therapy Toronto. She holds a Specialized B.A. in Psychology (York University) where she focused on developmental psychology, and a Master’s degree in Social Work (University of Toronto) where she focused on family and child therapy and parenting issues.