If you have a child who is a “biter” you know how embarrassing and frustrating it can be. Biting is upsetting to most adults – and children too- not just because it hurts, but because it seems to strike some sort of primitive chord deep within us. Even though children thoroughly enjoy being chased and “eaten,” an actual bite is viewed as way out of bounds.
So what do you do if despite your best efforts, you find yourself with a biter on your hands?
First, you need to understand that biting is more common than you realize. Developmentally, toddlers and preschoolers often bite. There are several reasons for this. Some children, especially those who have language delays, have difficulty expressing what they want or how they feel. Biting, even though it’s an undesirable behavior, is supremely effective in getting your point across.
Other children may be better able to express their needs, but may still lack the ability to solve problems on their own. They can’t seem to manage the back and forth that problem-solving requires. Slowly their frustration builds, and then suddenly erupts-with a chomp on the unlucky child nearest them.
There are several things you can do in order to help your biter stop biting:
1) Keep things simple at playtime.
Don’t have your child play with too many children at once, or for too long. As the saying goes, better to leave the party while everyone is still happy to see you.
If your child can handle only 15 minutes before he lets his teeth do the talking, then leave after 10 minutes. Don’t worry, you won’t always have to cut things short, but right now you need to set up the situation so your child can succeed.
2) Give more adult supervision.
At school, one of the teachers (or a volunteer) can spend a day or two following your child around during peak times. When she sees your child about to bite, she can cup her hand under his chin, and remind him that no biting is allowed.
She can also help him express how he’s feeling, and suggest an alternate, more appropriate behavior for him instead.
At home, you can do the same thing. You can also teach your child the words he needs in order to make himself understood: “We DON”T bite. You need to say, “I want that toy too!”
Role play right then and there with your child what to do, making sure your child says the appropriate phrase right then and there. Remember, you can’t take away a behavior unless you have something else to replace it.
3) Don’t punish the child by washing out his mouth or giving him bitter substances to taste.
Your child isn’t biting because he’s choosing to; it’s something that he impulsively does because he lacks the tools to handle the situation better.
So washing out his mouth or giving him something unpleasant to taste won’t work, since in the heat of the moment he won’t remember about the punishment anyway.
4) Remember that this too shall pass.
Even though it may seem like forever, the vast majority of children – even those with language delays- will stop biting. Beware though: since development proceeds from top to bottom, you may find yourself with a child who hits, or a little later, kicks. But that’s another post.