As a parent of a toddler, then you’ll be well aware that your child’s behavior can be quite erratic at times. Sometimes your child does things that completely takes you by surprise. Biting is something that can shock a parent the first time a child does it.
As adults, we have certain ideas about biting, what it means, and what it represents. But, of course, your child is too young to understand all the connotations associated with this act. Your toddler is acting out of instinct.
There are many reasons why they may bite. Let’s have a look at them:
Why Do Toddlers Bite?
Biting is a very common thing that young children do. The reason why one child bites may be different from another. So, let’s have a look at the main reasons why toddlers bite:
• Testing Boundaries: It’s very common for toddlers to test their boundaries, to see what it is and what it isn’t okay to do. Biting is one example of this. Some toddlers punch, kick, or pinch, whereas other toddlers will bite, and then some toddlers will do all of these things and more. Of course, if this is the reason why your child is biting, then they need to realize sooner rather than later that biting is not acceptable.
• To Relieve Teething Pain: If your toddler has teeth coming through, then they’ll do anything to relieve themselves of that pain. You’ll remember when they were a baby that they’d stick anything in their mouths to chew on. Even though they’re a little older, the same impulse is there, and biting you is just a quick, desperate effort to relieve the interminable pain of teething.
• To Express Frustration: As a toddler, your child is perhaps not yet able to explain how they feel. They definitely won’t understand everything that’s going on inside them. When it comes to feeling frustrated, your child might feel an increasing physical sensation of irritability and frustration and won’t know how to communicate this to you. Acting out through biting is one way of your toddler trying to show you this. Frustration isn’t the only extreme feeling that can cause the biting response. You may find your child resorting to biting when overwhelmed with anger, fear, or confusion too.
• To Express Hunger or Thirst: For the same reasons as to why your child might bite you to express their overwhelming sense of frustration, your child may do the same thing to tell you that they are hungry or, in some cases, thirsty.
• To Get Attention: When your toddler is feeling ignored, they can do just about anything to get your attention. Biting is one of those things. Sometimes, it may be a last resort, after your child has tried various methods, but at other times, your child might quickly go to the most extreme way to catch your attention.
• Self-Defence: If your child feels under threat, they will do anything to protect themselves. Your child instinctively knows that their teeth are effective weapons, and they will bite, as well as punch or kick if they feel under attack.
• Cause and Effect Experimentation: Your child may simply bite to find out what the impact of that biting is. This isn’t the same as your child testing their boundaries. Instead, your child is simply experimenting with their body and all that is around them.
• To Feel Powerful: In some circumstances, your child may simply want to display their strength. Of course, being so little, there are few ways to express this sense of power. Being loud and shouting is one method that children tend to use at this young age, but biting may be another way that they feel like they can assert their power and control over a situation.
What Can Parents Do?
Firstly, how a parent deals with biting will depend on the reason for the biting. As we have just seen, there are many different reasons why a toddler might bite. One of the most common reasons for a toddler biting is because of a need to express a strong sensation. This is either an emotional or physical state.
They may have an inability to communicate this to the outside world. Your child must feel listened to. If your toddler tells you they are hungry or that they’re not comfortable for some reason, then make sure you acknowledge what they’ve said and then take proactive steps to solve your child’s issue.
If your child bites, the first thing that you must do is to tell your child in a firm voice that biting is not allowed, and then explain how much it hurts. This second part is a must-do, whether it was you or someone else that was bitten. You must do this before you move onto the next step. Your child needs to know that biting is not acceptable.
Next, you should deal with the person who has been bitten if it’s not yourself. If it is you, then you should check the wound, and perhaps run it under cold water if it’s starting to sting.
After this, it’s important to sit down with your child, look them in the eye, and once again tell them that it’s not acceptable to bite. But it’s also key to understand why your child has bitten. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Find out what emotions and feelings were running through them when they bit. Ask them what they wanted to express. Then talk them through the different methods of expressing this. The next time your child feels the urge to bite, they should be given the tools and options to act otherwise.
While your toddler is learning self-control skills, you may want to consider purchasing something that your child can bite to let out frustration. Many toys can be used for this purpose.
If you’ve noticed that your child isn’t just biting all the time, but is also acting erratically, then this could be because your child’s lifestyle is causing a lot of strong feelings that they are unable to control or deal with. Make sure that your child’s life is full of routine. Kids thrive when life is predictable. Your child should eat at the same time, go to bed at the same time, do the same thing when they go to bed and wake-up. This will provide your child with the stability that they crave, which will then help to stabilize your child’s moods.
What Parents Shouldn’t Do
If there is one thing that you absolutely should not do, then it is to make your child feel abnormal because of their impulse to bite. Calling them a ‘biter’ or a similar name will only make your child feel uncomfortable. Your child is too young to realize exactly what they are doing. To stigmatize them, calling them names, will make them feel negative about themselves. Giving them a name like this can also change how you perceive your child.
Getting angry and screaming at your toddler when they bite is another fruitless thing to do. Speaking calmly to your child, finding out the reasons for their biting is the road you should take. Your child is acting out of instinct. You must understand that. Overreacting will make your child self-conscious, or it will cause those strong emotions to become ever stronger, making your child even angrier or frustrated than they were.
There are many reasons why toddlers bite. A child might bite simply because they are hungry, or they could bite because they don’t feel listened to. How you deal with your child when they bite will depend on the reason for the biting. Whatever the reason for the biting is, as a parent, you must always try to understand that your child doesn’t understand what they’re doing.
Never bite them back or shout at them. Instead, tell them that biting is not allowed, explain that it hurts, and then ask your child what was on their mind, what feelings were going through their body when they bit, and then help them come up with some alternative methods of dealing with these feelings and desires.