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Help: My child bites!

While biting is fairly common in children under the age of three or four, it can be embarrassing, frustrating and difficult to stop.

Toddlers do the cutest things. They surprise you with hugs, giggles and kisses. They cuddle up to you when they’re tired and look so sweet and vulnerable when their cupid-bow lips pout.

However, as any parent of a toddler will tell you, they also do some less-than-adorable things, such as kick, scream, or bite.

What causes toddlers to bite?

Biting is very common in young children. Babies and toddlers bite for various reasons, including teething or experimenting with a new toy or object with their mouth. As they learn about cause and effect, they may bite someone to see if they can elicit a reaction.

Toddlers sometimes use biting to gain attention or express themselves.

Biting is slightly more common in boys and occurs most frequently between the first and second birthdays. The good news is that most children stop biting after the age of three when language skills improve.

What can parents do to stop their children from biting?

Try these steps the next time your child bites:

Step 1: Maintain your composure

Make it clear that biting is unacceptable, but refrain from giving lengthy explanations until your child is old enough to understand.

Step 2: Offer comfort to the victim

Pay special attention to the person who has been bitten, especially if it is a child. If there is an injury, wash the affected area with soap and water. If the bite is deep or bleeding, seek medical attention.

Step 3: If necessary, console the biter

Toddlers frequently do not realise that biting hurts. It is acceptable to console a child who is upset about injuring someone. Allowing an older toddler to comfort or apologise to a friend after a bite may teach them valuable lessons. However, if the biter is using the behaviour to gain attention, you do not want to reinforce it by providing comfort and attention.

Step 4: Help your child verbalise their feelings

When the situation has calmed down, suggest alternatives to biting, such as using the words “no,” “stop,” and “that’s mine” when communicating with others. Show your child, for example, how to approach a peer, extend their hand, and then say “please” to request an item.

Step 5: Provide distractions

With children of this age, distraction works wonders. If a child’s emotions and energy levels are high, redirect their attention by engaging in positive activities, such as dancing to music, colouring, or playing a game.

Good to know: Discipline is rarely required because most children are unaware that biting hurts. Never hit or bite a child who has bitten, as this teaches the child that biting is acceptable behaviour.

A word on time-outs

If you try these steps and the behaviour persists, time-outs may be useful. A general rule of thumb for time-outs is one minute per year of age. You may need to supervise your toddler during a time-out, but avoid giving them any attention. Before leaving the time-out area, your child should be calm and quiet.

When to seek professional help

Biting is common in babies and toddlers, but it should stop around three or four. If it persists past this age, is excessive, appears to be getting worse rather than better, and occurs in conjunction with other distressing behaviours, consult your child’s doctor. You can find its causes and solutions together.

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