So, How Do You Teach Your Baby Not To Bite?
by Michelle Bruns
When toddlers turn to biting to express their feelings, it is commonly due to the fact that they cannot express themselves verbally. By preschool, kids are usually able to convey their feelings by using their words, and generally grow out of the need to chomp down. Yet, for some preschoolers and beyond, the act of biting continues.
According to Ruth Peters, Ph.D., “Research suggests several reasons: simple tactile exploration, expression of anger, or feelings of control and power over others.” Her research also finds that some kids bite for the reaction it gets from the victim and others around him. Before you can determine a course of action, you first have to pinpoint the cause of this painful habit.
Get to the root of the issue
If your little biter is old enough to communicate, you should be able to sit him down and talk about it. Find out what his take is on biting (is biting a good thing or a bad thing?), what he was feeling when he chose to bite, and gather as much information, as is age appropriate, on what the situation was that triggered the nip. With these answers on hand, you can decide how to proceed.
If your little one is old enough, ask him what he thinks is an appropriate consequence for his biting behavior. You may receive less resistance if he participates in the decision making. Hopefully, he will realize that he has choices and will choose to avoid the penalty.
In most cases, biting is due to emotional immaturity. However, if you suspect that your child is having anger management issues, or bottled-up angry feelings about a current situation, such as parent leaving or jealousy over a new sibling, consider taking your little guy to see a professional. A therapist may be able to identify the cause of these internalized feelings and help give him some coping mechanisms so he can help manage these feelings on his own.
Doctors and therapists everywhere say to fight the urge to bite him back. Think of the example you are setting, not to mention confusing the poor kid, when you do to him what you just told him was not okay to do to you or another child! You also risk breaking his trust when you bite back, so here are some alternative suggestions:
- Immediately address the issue; saying, “NO! Biting is not okay and it hurts!” may startle him, and if you’re lucky, be enough for him not to bite again
- Remove him from the situation; if another child taking his toys is the trigger to the episode, take him to another area and away from the heat of the moment
- Give him a chance to realize that biting is a bad behavior; explain that it is not okay to bite
- Decide on discipline immediately; a time out or loss of television privileges for the day or another beloved activity should be doled out as close to the incident as possible
Remember to focus on the behavior, and not his self-image, such as a good boy vs. a bad boy. Good boys have bad behavior sometimes, and you don’t want to start crossing the line by affecting his self esteem.
Whether your little guy is really orally inclined or just needs a few kiddie anger management lessons, encouraging him to make the choice not to bite is best handled with positive reinforcement.
Using a “sticker chart” and letting your sweetheart earn prizes for good behavior will give him positive attention and hopefully help him realize that he has the control when making decision on how to behave.
Also giving him suggestions on how to better handle the situation should they occur, such as saying, “Stop that,” asking the teacher for help, and/or putting his hands in his pockets and moving to another toy or center, may be just what the doctor ordered. Social behaviors are learned, so take the time to teach him a less violent approach to dealing with his feelings.
In addition, daily reminders to “use your words” are effective tools to encourage good behavior. Hopefully he won’t want to risk the chance of not getting a sticker and earning a reward!
The most important key to behavior modification is consistency. Whichever route you choose to take, stick with it on a daily basis. In most cases, as with all types of immaturity, biting is just a phase and will pass with time. As he learns to choose good behavior over bad behavior, biting should become a thing of the past.
- Stress-free parenting: Tips to end biting
- 8 signs that your baby might be teething
- Time-outs revisited