Q: How Can I Help Parents Respond to Biting?

December 16, 2020
Q: How Can I Help Parents Respond to Biting?

This week’s tip comes from a question asked by one of our readers. Check out our answer below!

Q: Why do young children bite? What are some strategies I can offer parents?

Why: Most young children bite because they have not yet developed inhibitory control. This is particularly common in toddlers, who have very strong emotions but have not yet developed language, communication, or self regulation skills. While those skills are developing, toddlers are particularly prone to biting. In some children, it is a way to seek attention, while in others, it may be a way to express frustration or even learn about cause and effect.

In general, parents should try their best to stay calm and assert the rule that biting others is not okay. You may suggest to avoid yelling, shaming, and punishment, and focusing briefly on ensuring that the bitten child or adult is okay to demonstrate sympathy.

Strategies: You can offer the following suggestions to parents:

  • Remind parents that this is typical behavior in toddlers.
  • Encourage parents to notice when children are keeping their teeth to themselves (Reinforce “good” behavior) rather than giving attention to the unwanted behavior of biting.
  • Suggest alternative, nonviolent, acceptable ways parents can assist children to express emotions (i.e., “You were mad you couldn’t have the blue cup. You bit mommy and it hurts. Next time, try saying ‘I’m mad!,’ and clenching your fists”).  Encourage parents to acknowledge their child’s feelings, give them an alternate suggestion for expressing themselves, and make sure to practice when they are regulated/calm.
  • Highlight for parents the importance of adequate sleep, nutrition, and predictable routines, emphasizing that a tired and hungry child is more likely to bite.
  • If you suspect the biting is related to teething, you may suggest families offer teething toys.