It can be very upsetting when you witness your child biting another child, or indeed if you find yourself on the receiving end of a chomp from your little one. Although you might find it disturbing, biting behaviour is common in pre-school children and most will have bitten someone at least once and will have themselves experienced the pain of being bitten by another. Children bite less frequently after their toddler years, when biting is related to oral exploration, but they can still give a nasty nip as they get older, particularly in situations where children are placed together, such as in playgroups.
Children bite for many reasons. Quite often it occurs as a reaction when they act out of frustration. It might be a response to the child being bitten themselves, or from them being in a situation of conflict where they feel frightened and threatened. Any changes to a child’s life, such as the arrival of a new baby into the family, or a move to a new home, can cause an emotional upheaval that can result in aggressive behaviour and biting. Children may also bite because they want attention and know that they can be assured of receiving it if they create a situation where another child cries out in pain.
What to do when your child bites another child
First of all you should make sure that both children are safe and physically apart from each other. It is likely that the child who has been bitten will be tearful and in distress, which can be upsetting for you. Check the bitten child for their injury – it is unlikely that they will need medical attention, as child bites rarely pierce the skin and just result in pain and bruising. In the event that the bitten child’s skin is broken –perhaps with bleeding observed – you should seek medical advice, as the mouth contains a lot of bacteria that can cause an infection. If only marking is observed, the bite will still have been painful and it may be shocking for you to see the results. However, try and stay calm and not react emotively to the scenario. You should try not blame or punish too harshly, as child care experts now suspect that severe punishment may lead to anger and resentment that can cause problems with future behaviour.
You should comfort both children and try to find out what caused the biting. Showing that you are not angry will help the child to express why they did the action and allow you to get to the root of the problem.
Most children who bite do it once or twice and then stop, but if your child appears to have developed a biting habit, you need to address the situation so that they learn that
- Think whether there have been any major events in their lives that may have impacted on to them. Have they just started at a play group or been introduced to new children? Maybe you have altered a routine at home, such as starting work, which has taken you away from the home. These changes may have been taken in your stride by you, but could have had a massive effect on your little one.
- Talk to your child and find out if there’s anything that they are unhappy about. Encourage them to come to you when they are feeling upset. Reinforce this by ensuring that you give them your full attention when they
- Try and assess the situations your child bites in. Are there triggers, such as you spending time with your new baby, or when they are playing together with other children who are taking your child’s favourite toys? Once you can see a pattern, it makes it easier to predict when it might happen.
- Look for behaviour that might precede the biting. Warning signs might include shouting, and becoming verbally or physically aggressive with others. When you see such signs, intervene early to prevent the situation escalating.
- If your child is in a play group, there is a chance that you may have been asked to remove them if they have bitten other children, which will obviously be upsetting. However, a good play group will be an inclusive one that will recognise that the biting behaviour is one that can be resolved by working with you and by supervising your child closely when playing with others.
- Never bite your child back. Some parents may want to do this out of a misguided sense that it is teaching their child that biting is painful. However, all it does is show them that it is acceptable to meet aggression with aggression. This lesson can shape the way they deal with conflict in the future and cause them difficulties in their relationships as they grow.
- Stay warm and caring towards your child even when they are attempting to bite others. It can be difficult not to raise your voice when you are attempting to physically restrain them, but staying calm and in control will help your child to come to terms with the fact that biting is wrong but that they are still loved.