Biting is a very common behavior among infants, toddlers, and 2-year olds. As little ones mature, gain discipline, and harness problem-solving skills, they most often times outgrow this behavior rather quickly. While biting may not be uncommon among littles, it’s still important to note that it can be an upsetting and potentially dangerous behavior. It’s best to discourage biting from the very first episode. Now that you’ve read this far, let’s learn a little more about why littles tend to bite and what we can do to encourage less harmful behaviour.

Why do young children bite?

Some children bite instinctively, because they have not developed the necessary discipline or self-control to act in a less harmful way. For example, when 4-year-old Jeremy grabs a toy from his 2-year-old brother Ben, his first response might be to bite him and grab the toy back. He may not stop to think about other ways to act or to process what results his actions might produce; however, there are many other reasons why children may bite.

Young ones might bite to:

  • Relieve pain from teething.
  • Explore cause and effect (“What happens when I bite?”).
  • Experience the sensation of biting.
  • Satisfy a need for oral-motor stimulation.
  • Imitate other children and adults.
  • Feel strong and in control.
  • Get attention.
  • Act in self-defense.
  • Communicate needs and desires, such as hunger or fatigue.
  • Communicate or express difficult feelings, such as frustration, anger, confusion, or fear (“There are too many people here and I feel cramped”).

What can families do to prevent biting?

There are many things that families can do to prevent biting. One key to success is to have age-appropriate expectations for your child’s behavior based on his or her current skills and abilities. Often times, we can project expectations onto our children that are not fair considering the stage of development that the child is in. One way to prevent negative behavior in our children is to make sure their schedule, routines, and transitions are predictable and consistent. With children, as well as with many adults, consistency is key. For example, at meal and bedtimes, try to do things in the same way and at the same times. In addition to a consistent schedule, it is often helpful to offer activities and materials that allow your child to relax and release tension. Use positive guidance strategies to help your child develop self-control. For example, you can proactively offer gentle reminders, phrased in a way that tells them what behaviors are expected (“Ben, let’s tell Jeremy you were playing with that toy!”).

Ultimately, you should know that biting is an expected behavior in the developmental process of most children, but just because it is expected doesn’t mean that it must be accepted. We hope that this blog has been encouraging and helpful for you. Please, feel free to leave a comment and let us know if this helped! Just remember, this season won’t last forever – you’ve got this!

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