Hearing that our child is "the biter" usually rates pretty high on most parents' lists of things they don't want to hear.
Upon hearing this, parents will often have visions of being shamed at every birthday party on the horizon; and of their previously sweet-natured toddlers ostracised and friendless at Kindergarten; angry and violent in primary school and headed for a life of juvenile delinquency. Next they will usually turn to thoughts of "what did I do wrong?" Because, well, parent-guilt is real. But why do children bite? Is it because they woke up one morning and decided they wanted to punish us as their parents? Or maybe it's because they are experiencing some kind of severe emotional turmoil that we previously hadn't picked up on (cue more parent-guilt)? And then if they do bite, what on earth do we do about it?
Put simply, children bite for a number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons comes down to our best friend: teething. As adults we forget how uncomfortable teething is, but also how exciting it is to have big shiny new teeth to play with! Biting in infants can often be attributed to these things - relieving the discomfort of new teeth breaking through, and as a means of exploring our big new world. New teeth often coincides with our littles becoming more mobile, so it makes sense that they want to use them to explore everything around them - including other people. Another big reason, and one that is commonly seen in toddlers and young children is impulsivity and/or an absence of emotion regulation skills. Like any skill, regulating our feelings is something we need to learn. Therefore, if our young ones are yet to develop skills in managing feelings like anger, frustration, or being overwhelmed, biting can provide a seemingly good (albeit maladaptive) strategy. Other times, biting can be a way for sensory-seeking children to meet their needs, or a way for children to gain attention or get their needs met (such as "encouraging" a sibling to give them a toy).
So what do we do about it? The first step to managing biting in children is all around understanding the driving forces. The way we manage biting caused by an absence of emotion regulation skills is different to how we would manage biting in a sensory-seeking child. Biting due to teething often resolves once a more suitable item to chew on is provided. Young children can also be encouraged to develop social and oral language skills through appropriate modelling and education. The thing to keep in mind is that whilst not all children bite, many do and it is rarely done to deliberately hurt others. The reasons for it vary, however it is something that can be easily managed with the right support.
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