Child Behaviour: Why Children Bite and how to stop it.

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Children Biting “Bite Me!”

In all the years I have worked with children let me firstly reassure you that biting is completely normal. I know that as the parent it can make you feel shocked and embarrassed when your child is the biter and you worry about the reaction from other parents, teachers and anyone else who witnesses or overhears that your child bit another child.

If your child has been bitten, you want answers especially if in a playgroup setting like a kinder as to why it happened and you may even tell your child to keep away from the child that has bitten them. In group settings, biting happens very quickly and there is normally no prior notice, it is not always a sign that the children are not being supervised. A group of three year olds may be the same age but at different levels of development and communications which may lead to a biting incident as they cannot verbalise what they want.

Children Biting – Once Bitten Twice Shy

Biting usually occurs between the ages of one and up to four years of age. It can come out of nowhere and stop just as suddenly as it started. It is a phase that is changeable or just stops. Biting although not acceptable is normally a child’s way of communicating something that they cannot yet verbalise, or express eg: “I want that toy now !” or even as an expression of love, normally for their mother and at times their sibling. In the excitement of playing they bite. I remember when my two children were little and saying “I love you so much I’m going to eat you up” and  I grab their feet and playfully nibble,  just  to hear their hysterical giggles saying “Mummy stop don’t eat me”.

Reasons For Children Biting

Kids love putting things in their mouths, so experimenting

Too much love especially for mum

Lack of vocabulary to express how they feel

Frustration , the child wants the attention or toy now

Impulsive

Boredom

Lack of attention

Tired or unwell

Having to share when they are not yet developmentally ready

Gaining control of a situation

Defending themselves

Too much going on around them

Too much structure in their play/environment

Not understanding  that biting is not acceptable

Lack of choice

Mimicking behaviour

Teething

Children Biting Don’t Panic!

  • Do not panic and stay calm and breathe (it’s not a sign of anything serious) It could be any or a mix of the above reasons.
  • Biting is quick so remove the biter gently from the bitten.
  • Say “No biting because you hurt Mary. Mary is sad now because she is sore”
  • Don’t force a sorry, especially on a young child and if its the first time they have bitten.
  • You can validate the emotion they are feeling “I know you are cross /sad Tom took your toy, that is Ok but No Biting”
  • Introduce Visual aids for children on things we never ever do; biting, hitting, spitting   Never Ever Board
  • Teach emotions sad, happy and angry.
  • Demonstrate adverbs like gentle and stroke their hand and let them stroke yours.
  • When reading stories, point out that the characters use their words and not biting.
  • Children like to feel big and grown up, you can say grownups do not bite
  • If the child bites again take the time to observe their surroundings and see what the triggers may be from the above list.
  • Toddlers may bite but it is not a thought out act of malice.
  • The biting may stop and replaced by pushing or hitting, again the same points apply.
  • Teenagers bite out of love and experimentation, a bit like a toddler.

So do not feel desperation if your child bites, it is normally just a phase that comes and disappears quite quickly once the child understands why it is not a behaviour that is acceptable.

Did your child bite? How did you get them stop? Or has your child been bitten what did you do ?


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Nathalie Brown

Child Behaviour Consultant at Easy Peasy Kids
Child Behaviourist and researcher. Creator of "Less tantrums. More smiles". I look at the bigger picture and think outside the box when working with children and their behaviour. Their world is different. As adults we sometimes forget this. Happiness Creator in my spare time. Eater of chocolate and cake.

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Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    Great post Nathalie! I had to giggle at that picture. It looks all too familiar. I’m pleased to say that the biting stage is finished for me. 2 of my kids didn’t really do it at all, one was pretty bad and the other in-between. All different hey…

    • It’s amazing how very different kids are, both mine had a bite each (Great for a behaviour consultant) hands on experience. When Miss 15 was 2 she bit me on the bottom for fun and when Mr 6 was 2 someone bit him so he bit back. x

  2. Linda says:

    Wonderful article Nathalie, I was just looking at my 3 year old’s fading bite mark too! Jess has been bitten quite a number of times at creche, and the carers are all so apologetic. It doesn’t bother me, though of course I don’t like thinking of her upset, but I would certainly feel worse if she was doing the biting. I know they keep a watch on any child that is going through a biting phase to minimise incidents,and gently discourage them, so that satisfies me. I always talk to jess about it afterwards, acknowledge that it would’ve hurt, and explain that some children bite when they are upset even though its the wrong thing to do. I always praise her for not retaliating and in particular, not biting back. She is really good friends now with the boy who was her first regular biter, which is great to see. And thanks for all the tips – if one of the kids does start biting, I’ll be visiting this post again for sure

    • It’s hard both as the mother of the child that gets bitten and as the moteh who has the bter. You are really taking a very lovely approach to it and takig the time to explain it to Jess and good to see she now has a new friend in the ex biter. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Marianne says:

    Wonderful post Nathalie! I am currently going through this stage at the moment with my 3 year old son. In fact he has been doing all of the things you have mentioned at one time or another lately….
    When he has been bitten I have not got upset about the situation as I know the staff at the childcare cannot be there at every instant and it happens so quick so it’s nearly impossible to stop. Plus I know what it’s like to have a child that is the biter so I feel worse for the parents of the biter. You do feel like you are doing something wrong or should be doing something more to stop him. Maybe, as in your list, he gets too much love from me – not a bad thing necessarily but something to think about for sure.
    You have given me some good ideas as to what might trigger his biting…. I will definitely be using some of these ideas :)
    Can you recommend any good visual aids like books etc that could assist me with trying to understand that biting (and hitting/pushing) are not acceptable?
    Thanks
    Marianne

    • I use the Never Ever Poster which I make with the children, The link is in the post and I use abook called “That’s Mean” by Pittau and Gervais you can buy them from http://www.bookdepository.com/ with free shipping, they have a whole series. They are funny and have the serious message in them too.xx

      • Marianne says:

        I just found the Never Ever poster after re-reading your post – will be making one up this weekend! Will look for the books too
        Thank you again :)
        Marianne

        • No problem, let me know how it goes :)

          • Marianne says:

            Hi Nathalie, I just wanted to say THANK YOU!! Jacob is now no longer biting. The never ever board is fantastic and really has worked in eliminating most of the bad behaviour we were getting. If we do get an instance of bad behaviour we revisit the board and talk about what happened.
            It’s been really great and a huge relief off our shoulders!! I was actually able to almost fully relax taking him to a playcentre today and not worry about him trying to hurt somebody…a very good feeling!

            Marianne :) xx

          • Hi Marianne, so plaesed that you’ve been so successful in changing Jacob’s behaviour. The Never ever Board is a fab visual aid. Thanks for letting me know. Nx

  4. Fab reassuring post Nathalie – love it x

  5. It’s good to know the varied reasons behind biting. My two bite each other a bit during rough and tumble play. But I’ve also been on the end of a frustrated toddler bite too.
    The never ever visual aid is a great idea. Thanks Nathalie!

    • Laney it does stop once you start with the never ever board, or if they have favourite toy characters you can role play with them. I had a client use Buzz and Woody and Buzz bit Woody during play and the little boy hasn’t bitten since 😉 Once children can internalise visually what biting does they normally stop. xx

  6. Kiri Brunsden says:

    interesting read!! and some great tips… will be trying a few of them! thanks for the info!! :)

  7. Oh wow.. I really needed to read this! My 2 yr old has just started biting here and there.. usually when she’s tired or doesn’t want to do something.. it freaked me out and I have needed to find some advice!! thank you :)

  8. Jacqueline says:

    Wow that was very insightful esp as my son gotten bitten yesterday at daycare. He has never bitten or been bitten before (he is almost 3) and the welt is massive and has not gone down in the last 24 hours. My son is a bit behind in speech ( going to speech therapy) and apparently he walked up to the biter and went to take the toy off the other child was playing with it. I was told it all happened in a split second. Apart from being upset for my son, I am unsure how to react but at least reading this helps know where the other child was coming from and hopefully this was an isolated incident.

    • Jacqueline if he lets you can you ice it and apply arnica cream. In day care settings it does happen so quickly, they would have written up an incident report and told the biters parents about it. Perhaps also spend time with your little man role playing in sharing, hope all goes fab with the speech therapy Nx

  9. Bachelor Mum says:

    Great advice there. Really comprehensive, sensible and easy peasy to understand. Thanx

  10. Many kids bite and it does not mean that they are badly behaved. Don't get upset if your child is a biter – my oldest ewas and now he is the sweetest child ever. It was a phase and lasted a few months. The recipients of his biting are now his best friends.

    • Hello beautiful definitely does not mean they are badly behaved, it really is a child thing. I see how the become best friends too. I hope you as well x

  11. Natalie Watson says:

    Hi, I am having terrible trouble with my son biting at the moment. He’s had to leave childcare and now his new childminder doesn’t want to look after him either. I read the article and constantly tell my son its not OK, it hurts etc but there seems to be no stopping him. He also hits. I read the comments and hoped the never ever board could help but when I go to the page it says error. : / is there some other way I can access it? I’m starting to feel useless and need help!

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