[00:00:00] You’re listening to Parenting in the First Three Years, the place where we explore the strategies and soul of parenting from pregnancy through the first three years of life. I’m your host, Anne McKittrick. Thank you so much for joining me.
Hey there, and welcome back. I’m so glad that you’ve joined me here at Parenting in the first three years. Today, I’m going to talk with you about why children bite. It’s one of those things that we just hate it. We hate it when kids bite. We hate it when our kid gets bit. And as a teacher in a program, we hate it when our children bite each other.
Today, I just want to look at some of the developmental reasons that children bite and what you as a parent need to know about it. And then what can you do to help your child who might be either bitten or be the biter themselves? You know, when I was an infant [00:01:00] teacher, we had this one kid in our class.
He was the sweetest little guy. His name was Paul. And Paul was, he was one of the older kids in the class. He was probably about, I don’t know, maybe 20 months old, but Paul didn’t quite. I don’t know how to speak yet. He, he was still working on his language, but he was a, you know, he was a busy little person and he would bite other children so fast and we would do everything we knew to prevent this from happening.
But he somehow would get these bites in so much, and, you know, as a early childhood program, you address biting immediately, you know, you, you work with the child who’s been bitten, you work with the child who’s biting, and you look at all of the circumstances around it and try to figure out how you can prevent it from happening again.
You know, biting is typical with infants and toddlers and two year olds. And as they grow up, and as children [00:02:00] mature, they gain some self control, and they develop problem solving skills, which allow them to grow out of this behavior. Even though it’s a very concerning behavior, it’s not one that should really surprise us, because it’s not that uncommon.
Many, many young children bite when they are in certain situations. So let’s talk about some of the reasons kids bite and then we’ll talk about how we can manage those things. So, you know, biting seems to be a pretty instinctive behavior because babies and toddlers have not yet developed self control.
This ability to kind of self regulate, it doesn’t happen for a little while. And so in these in between times, kids will just do the first thing that comes to their mind. And oftentimes that’s to bite whatever it is that’s in your way. But some other reasons that children might bite, especially really young children who are getting teeth, is it’s, it’s soothing on the gums to clench [00:03:00] down on something like that.
They might be just exploring cause and effect. You know, what happens when I bite a person? What happens when I bite this? What happens when I bite that? There’s a YouTube video that’s entitled Charlie bit my finger and it’s a really beautiful example of a baby who is just exploring with biting and the video is the older brother is holding this baby and he’s actually putting his fingers in the baby’s mouth and the baby’s just kind of mouthing and gnawing on his And then the baby bites down.
And the baby smiles when the little boy says, Charlie, that hurt. And he begins to even giggle at the end. And so, this is just a beautiful example of how an infant will enjoy the reaction that they get from people when they do things like bite and other things that get a reaction from us. And so, that’s how they, that’s how they learn is by watching our reactions.
Another reason that babies and [00:04:00] toddlers bite is out of self defense. You know, I have seen children in, in playing with each other, where one will grab a toy out of the other one’s hand, and the person who has the toy will just bite to get the, you know, to get them to stop taking their toy. Or I’ve seen a kid bite to get a toy that somebody has.
And so biting is actually a pretty effective way to get what you want. And when a kid learns that, then they sometimes will repeat that behavior. They need our help in learning to not use that as a way of, of getting what they need. Children bite to express difficult feelings, things like frustration and anger, confusion, even fear.
And so we do need to pay attention when children bite and, and try to understand what’s going on. Is it just kind of a, Uh, a benign bite, like Charlie’s little brother? Or is it this child really letting you know that there’s something going on that’s pretty stressful? You [00:05:00] know, in my own experience of working with young children and observing lots and lots of kids over the years, is I think that most children who bite, they just need to get their language.
They need to express themselves, but they don’t have the words yet. You can only imagine how frustrating it is for a toddler who has such a huge receptive vocabulary. They understand everything that every, that everybody is saying to them, but they don’t have yet the skill, the developmental ability to say the words that they need to say as quickly as they need to say them, especially if somebody’s grabbing your toy.
And so. So, most of the time what we see is that whenever a child’s language comes in good and strong and people can understand what they’re saying, that biting diminishes greatly. In fact, most of the time it stops, it goes away. That’s one of the things that I think that we all need to remember is that it’s very, very developmental.
And it’s really important to [00:06:00] remember that the, the windows of developmental milestones are very very broad, actually. And so you might have, you know, another kid in your family or, you know, a kid, a friend’s child who’s the same age, who is there in very different places developmentally. And so you need to really be aware of, of what your child’s abilities are to know what you can expect from them because biting is oftentimes kind of stress induced.
Keeping your child’s schedule and routines and the transition from one thing to another predictable and consistent will really be helpful. Trying to do the same things around meals and bedtime are really important and it’s because young children thrive when they know what’s going to happen next. I like to know what’s going to happen next.
So that’s one way that you can kind of try to help prevent a stressful response like biting. There are activities that we can do with kids that help them relax and release tension. [00:07:00] And these are things like Play Doh and bubbles and foam balls, things like that. But I also think going outside and having a good run or a good climb, that is really helpful for breaking, uh, for releasing tension as well.
Another thing that you can do to prevent biting is just to Use positive guidance, you know, to help your child develop some self control. And what positive guidance means, really, is that you tell your child what to do instead of what not to do. Roll the ball on the floor instead of don’t throw the ball.
Or keep your shoes on your feet instead of don’t take off your shoes. Just the way that you say it is the instruction on how to do that thing. And that’s what positive guidance is. Another thing is just to give your child things to bite that are soothing and good. You know, a wet washcloth that’s been in the freezer feels really good on those little gums that are, that are teething.
Teething rings, anything that is soft [00:08:00] and squishy is kind of nice for biting. A lot of the silicon products that we have for, you know, the cups and the, the straws and things like that, those are nice for biting, and those might be good for your kid as well. So what do you do if your child bites? What, how should you respond?
Let’s talk about that a little bit. Well, first of all, if your baby, if it’s your baby who’s doing the biting, that’s a totally different response from a two and a half year old who’s biting. You know, babies learn about the world around them by exploring it with their mouth and with their hands and their eyes.
And they need a little bit of help on learning what they should and should not bite. Whenever your baby just is experimenting by biting on your shoulder or biting you when you’re nursing them, it’s just really important to stay calm and communicate real clearly that, no, that hurts, that’s not okay, we’re not going to bite like that.
So you can [00:09:00] just say gently, but with some firmness, no. No biting. Biting hurts. And so, this will usually get them to stop. And if you are consistent enough, it will work. Now, if your child is a little bit older, and they’re a toddler, they have very strong emotions, and they’re just learning to manage these emotions.
And remember, they don’t have the words yet to express their feelings. And so, they bite out of anger and frustration. And so, when they bite, Here’s what we need to do. First of all, if you see a biting incident, like if you see your kid bite or your, your kid get bit, the first thing you need to do is move over there quickly, get down on their level, and say to the child who’s done the biting, No biting.
Biting hurts. I can’t let you hurt somebody else, and I’m not going to let anybody hurt you. The next thing to do is to respond to the child who has been bitten. They are the, they are the victim, so to speak, and [00:10:00] so we need to offer that child lots of comfort and lots of actions. You want to start by saying, I’m sorry that you got hurt.
Let’s get some ice. And ask the child who’s been bitten if it’s okay if the person who just bit them helps to comfort them. They may want nothing to do with that other child. Or they might be okay with the other child helping them and giving them some comfort. First of all, you know, check in with the kid who’s been bit.
Is it okay if the biter helps you? Or would you rather they not? And then if they’re okay with it, then that’s a great way for the biter to kind of make a peace offering to the person that they’ve just hurt and to, you know, we can model empathy and compassion and helping by giving that child an ice block or a wet rag or just whatever it is that they need to comfort, maybe they even need just Maybe the child who’s just been bitten just needs something [00:11:00] like their lovey or their pacifier or something to soothe them.
And so, the person who’s been bit needs to be comforted. The person who’s done the biting needs to try to comfort the person that they’ve just bit. And then once everything is settled down, talk to the child who did the biting. You want to give it a little bit of time and space. It doesn’t help a lot in the heat of the moment to talk to the child who’s done the biting.
But once it’s settled down, get down at their level, look them in the eye, and just speak in real simple, calm, and kindly. You know, we need to be sure to be, that we’re kind in all of these interactions. But just tell them. Try to figure out what led to the interaction. Try to find out what happened that led them to want to bite.
And then just restate the rules. Biting is not allowed. We do not bite people. And model the words that they can use next time to describe their feelings. You know, you know, she took your ball and you felt angry and you [00:12:00] bit her. But I can’t let you do that. I can’t let you hurt her. No biting. And talk about what they might do next time instead of biting.
So let’s talk about what you want to do if it seems as if your child has developed a habit of biting other kids. One is, it’s really important to observe when and where and in what situations the biting is occurring. Once you have identified that, then you can do all that you can to be right there in those situations if they are unavoidable.
Observing your kid and learning what is it that’s happening is probably the key to solving most problems. Behavior issues that we have in the home, paying attention to the signals and staying close and ready to step in just as quick as you see it happening. The little boy I mentioned earlier, in the podcast, we were right there on him.
Sometimes I would be sitting literally with a kid in my lap and him [00:13:00] beside me, and he would still bite . It’s just sometimes. Sometimes kids are just really, really fast, but doing all that you can by being close by is really important if you know that it’s a tendency for a child to be biting. I’m going to reinforce positive behavior by acknowledging them when they do things well.
Just, you don’t need to go on and on about it, but just make a comment, make an observation. You didn’t like being tickled and you told me to stop. That was great. You used your words to tell me. You want to give your child lots of
So, if a child feels that they have choices and lots of opportunities to a power struggle. And so, if a kid feels that they do have some power and autonomy and agency in their world, then they might be a little bit less inclined to bite. And then teach your child the words, as soon as they can say them, to set limits for other people.
And then lastly, you can teach your child the words for setting [00:14:00] limits. Things like, no, or stop, or that’s mine. Or, I’m playing, then you can help them to say those words appropriately, you know, as, as they are playing with other kids. So the last thing I want to talk about before we wrap it up is what not to do if your child is biting.
First of all, we don’t want to label kids as biters. Negative labels can affect how you view your child. It certainly can affect how others view your child. If your child is going to child care and If the child care center has labeled your child as a biter then I would make an appointment with the teacher or the director or whomever you need to and just talk about this.
We do not want to label children as biters. This just isn’t helpful at all. We never want to bite children back to show them how it feels. or as a punishment. Maybe in the past this was a solution to the problem, but it is not a solution to the problem today. We do not bite children. [00:15:00] Avoid getting angry and yelling, but really, really, no shaming a child if they bite.
One time I was speaking to a group of directors at an early childhood conference. The room was full. There were probably 200 people sitting there, and we got to talking about biting. This is one of the main things expressed from that group is that they did not want any child to be shamed for biting, because it is so developmental, because it is so common.
There’s such negative fallout if a child is labeled a biter or any, any other negative label at this, at this age. It’s not good at any age, but it’s certainly not good for toddlers. Avoid giving too much attention to the child after a biting incident. You know, negative attention is still reinforcing the behavior sometimes.
And so, just almost act nonchalant. Address it, deal with it, and then move on. Don’t, don’t dwell on it and keep talking about it. Another thing is we need to not force the child who bit [00:16:00] and the child who was hurt to continue playing together. They might need a break. Another thing is to not force the child who bit and the child who got bit to play together and learn to work together.
That’s not necessarily going to be helpful for them at that time. And then lastly, don’t punish children for biting. Punishment doesn’t teach them. to have self control. And instead it makes them angry, and upset, and defiant, and embarrassed. It’s not helpful in the biting situation to punish a child. There you go.
I hope that this is helpful and gives you some tools in your parenting toolbox for what to do if your child bites or if your child gets bitten. I’m gonna put a couple of videos the, the Charlie bit me video in the show notes of this just for fun and let you see that fun video, but. Just know that if your child is biting, that it’s not going to last forever.
My mom used to say, just when you think you can’t [00:17:00] stand another minute, they change. And that is certainly true with a child who bites. So that’s all for today. Thanks so much for joining me. If you loved today’s episode, take a minute and subscribe to our podcast. And one last thing, I’d love to pray for you and your baby if you’d like for me too.
You can email me at ask at nurturednoggins. com Your request can be as simple as just one word, or it can include an explanation. Either way, you can trust that I will pray for you. It’s a quiet, simple way that I can connect with you and your family and support you in your parenting journey.