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Help! My child is a biter


Us parents deal with so many things (good and bad) raising our little ones. It's never a fun experience to realize that your child has resorted to biting others.
The first thing to realize as you are flooded with shock and alarm at the sight of your child biting someone (maybe even yourself), is that it's a very common behaviour, and there are steps you can take to reduce or eliminate it.

Your response to a biting incident should vary depending on first understanding why your child is doing it. Here are some common reasons:

  • Your child is over-tired
  • Your child lacks appropriate language skills to express strong emotions like anger, frustration or excitement, or needs like the need for oral stimulation (like when teething)
  • Your child is overwhelmed by sounds, sights or activity levels in their current setting
  • Your child needs more active play time
Before you instantly react to a biting occurrence, try to stop and ask yourself what might have brought it on (I know, hard to do in the moment, but very important). Did any of the above apply? Does it seem to happen with a certain child or adult? At a certain time of day? Once you start seeing the trigger behind your child's biting, you can start predicting when it is likely to happen. If you see the perfect storm brewing, here are some steps you can take, before the biting happens:

  • If your child is tired, try to fit in a nap or if that isn't possible, just some quiet time away from other children or stimulating situations. Be sure that their sleep schedule is adjusted so they are well rested.
  • Give your child suggestions on how to handle their emotions: "I can see that you feel angry that you couldn't share the toy. We can find a different toy to play with while you wait your turn". Help your child use words to express their emotions rather than biting. For younger children distracting them from the situation at hand is usually best.
  • If your child needs oral stimulation try to provide him or her with a crunchy snack like crackers or carrot sticks, or a teether to safely chew on.
  • Set aside time every day for your child to be physically active and talk to your child's caregivers to make sure activities are built into their day.
  • Sometimes children can turn to biting because they feel a lack of control. Try giving your child age-appropriate choices to give them a feeling of being in control of their situation.

If your child does end up biting someone else, try to not overreact. Remember that any attention (even negative) reinforces behaviours. So try to count to ten, or take a deep breath, or do anything else to calm your initial feelings of frustration, annoyance or embarrassment. Use a short sentence to let your child know that biting is not okay, like "no biting" or "biting hurts". Then switch your attention to the person your child bit. Simply say "Look! Your friend is crying because you bit her and biting hurts". Showing sympathy and directing your energy to the person who was bitten will teach your child that biting does not give them more attention and also teaches them empathy. It connects their behaviour (biting) with the result (friend crying).

Biting your child back or harshly reprimanding or shaming your child does not work. Remember that changing a behaviour doesn't happen overnight. Take opportunities where you can to reinforce good behaviour (your child using words to ask for a need or want for example), or talking with your child about emotions, and appropriate ways to deal with them.

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