Many children go through a biting phase, often related to teething when they are young but sometimes due to aggression when they are older.
Whatever the cause, biting is not a pleasant or socially acceptable behaviour and a child who bites is likely to be excluded and find him/herself alone and lonely.
Thankfully, there are many things that parents can and must do to tackle biting among their children.
Discover the true Cause of Biting
There are many reasons that children may begin to bite others. The first is a physical need. Young children may be teething, particularly getting molars, which causes pain in their gums and they find relief in gnawing on items – even others’ arms and legs!
The second is curiosity. They may also simply be interested in what others taste or feel like and have decided to investigate with their mouths.
The third is simply repeating the behaviour of others. Older children may be imitating a new friend who bites and they have decided to join in this new activity.
The arguably most concerning cause is aggression through frustration. This aggression is behavioural and because they can not verbalise, they act out through biting.
Of course, biting is a good way of getting what all children crave, attention. Some children bite because they quickly realise that it brings them attention and they figure that even negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Discipline Biters Immediately
It doesn't matter if children are biting as a way of getting attention, they won’t enjoy an interruption to their activities to be disciplined.
Parents who are dealing with a biter should call attention to the behaviour immediately by strongly advising children “No biting!”
If the child does not stop biting others the phrase should be repeated and the child immediately removed from the activity. At this point sending the child to the Naughty Step or Time Out is a good idea as it gives the child time to think about what (s)he has done.
Before being allowed back to their activities, children should issue an apology to the bitten child, and/or their parents, and be able to say to their own parent or carer what they did wrong and what they will or won’t do in the future.
Even if biting occurs frequently, you need to discipline a child and remove them each time the behaviour occurs, rather than save up discipline for later when the message of why (s)he is being disciplined could become confused or forgotten.
Parents should also not attempt to show children what they are doing to others by biting the children themselves. Not only does this rarely teach a child not to bite but it also reinforces the behaviour.
Apply some Basic Rules
When children bite others they often don’t realise that they are causing physical pain. Parents should explain this to children in simple language, for example by saying “It hurts David when you bite him” or “Stephie doesn’t like it when you bite her”.
Parents should also take this opportunity to explain the Basic Rules to children – that they should treat others in the same way that they would like to be treated – and remind children that this applies to everything in life.
Making this a family motto and reminding children of it whenever they misbehave will help them learn what is appropriate and what is not.
Children may begin to bite others for all sorts of reasons. Parents who are living with a biter should remember to discipline their child immediately when they bite others. Most children grow out of a biting phase on their own, but asking a GP’s opinion is advised if parents become concerned about this behaviour.