Many children bite, especially in the 1-3 year age group. Children who bite in kindergarten, children who bite their mother. The problem is widespread, yet few things cause more discomfort and embarrassment. So, what to do if you babysit a biter or your child bites?
At the park, the child plays quietly, in an atmosphere of serenity. Suddenly you see him with his teeth sunk in the arm of a friend: everyone rushes, the mother of the injured person consoles her son and looks at your child and you with disapproval. You go deep into excuses.
A baby-to-baby bite is worse than a crying fit in the supermarket; it is perhaps the most antisocial behavior a child can have in public. And it is undoubtedly what arouses the strongest emotional reactions, both among adults and children. Still, biting is a normal stage in a child’s growth. Not all the little ones cross it but many do. Of course, a child who bites cannot be ignored.
Why do babies bite?
Babies bite for different reasons, none of which are intentionally bad. In other words, babies who bite don’t want to hurt or cause pain. Rather they do it because:
They have toothache
During teething, babies bite to relieve gums, that’s all (6 to 12 months).
It is their way of exploring the world
The mouth of small children is like their hands: to know they put in their mouths and sometimes squeeze. The mother’s breast, the pacifier, or the fingers of a little brother or dad. The biting child wants to find out what reaction it causes. Usually, the not-so-delighted response of the “victim” will be enough to end the experiment: it is not pleasant and the child learns it. Remember that in this phase the bite is an impulse, the child who bites has no intention of hurting. It just does what it needs to do to learn (6 to 12 months).
They have to defend themselves
Especially if they can’t speak yet! Many children bite to delimit their spaces, their safety zone. Biting is then their way of saying: “hey you, get away!”. When you bite someone, that someone walks away and this is the best defense (12 to 18 months).
I’m looking for attention (or power)
If a child feels ignored, he or she may decide to engage in behavior that will lead to punishment. Whether negative or positive, attention is still attention! Other children bite to make their parents or other children do a certain thing. It is not a behavior that they perform consciously. For example, the youngest child in the family may bite the older sibling to “gain power” (12 to 24 months).
They don’t know how to express emotions and frustration
For older children, the reason for biting is more often emotional in nature. They are not yet able to express feelings and sensations with words: they want back a toy that a friend has taken; they want to be alone; they are afraid and do not know how to communicate it. Not all children express anger or sadness with tantrums or crying.
Above all, in early childhood, the bite can be the most immediate response to express feelings of anxiety and frustration (if you feel like it, take a look at the link: it is useful for “rediscovering” what frustration means in the child, beyond the trivialization that the term has had in everyday language). The inability or inability to express themselves leads children to bite. In many cases, in fact, the child who bites is a child who is experiencing a tension that he is unable to dissolve otherwise, a stress that has occupied his life and which he does not know how to get rid of.
However, children can also use the bite to express positive sensations and feelings. A two-year-old child can experience an intense joy that he wants to share even though he does not have the linguistic or emotional means. So what do you do? It bites. If this has not happened to you, you will surely have been told about a child who, in the midst of cuddling and playing with his mother, bit her hand, forcefully and unexpectedly (from 12 to 26 months).
Baby biting: how to make it stop?
If the child you care for bites for all the reasons you have seen above, it is clear that scolding or mortifying him in public is of little use. On the contrary, it can even be counterproductive: if he bites out of frustration at not being able to express a feeling, being scolded will lead him to accumulate more stress, and even more anger.
Instead, here are some good tips to prevent him from biting or learning not to do it again:
- if the baby is going through teething, make sure you always have chilled toys with you to bite into;
- try to avoid any situations you have experienced that make the child irritable. Before going out, make sure he has rested and that his nappy is clean;
- try, if possible, to take breaks in the course of his activities or to change his game: it will help him rest and prevent him from accumulating excessive tension; try to choose a game that is suitable for his age (if you are looking for inspiration read our posts on games for 1 and 2 year olds or on activities for 3 to 5 year olds ).
- if he is with other children, monitor the situation and intervene if necessary. Help him to express with words (even saying them in its place) the reasons for anger and frustration: “ask Paolo to give you back your shovel”. If, on the other hand, you notice that he is about to bite out of love, tell him “hug Sofia and give her a kiss”;
- if you arrive too late and it has already bitten, take care of the “victim” child in the first place; in this way he will see that biting is not much of a strategy to attract attention;
- every time he bites, without raising his voice but with a firm and calm tone and looking him in the eye, give him a clear and simple instruction: “Don’t bite. Bites hurt ”. Always repeat the same sentence in the same way every time the problem arises;
- in any case, do not shout, do not mortify him or worse, do not physically punish him. In no case will you have to bite him back to show him that it hurts: you will have to teach him with words.
You will see that, if you apply yourself consistently and calmly, the results will come and the “bite phase” will become a thing of the past.