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Help! My Little One Bites!

A toddler who likes to bite his peers can be, well, an embarrassment to the parents, especially if it causes physical hurt to another kid. If you happen to find yourself in this situation with your toddler, do read on to learn about the causes of this behavior and how to deal with it.

You’ve probably been a situation where your toddler has bitten his or her sibling, causing the latter to yell out in pain. Well, if it’s among siblings the situation may not be as bad, although the sibling who got bit might beg to differ! However, if your little biter were to take a sharp nip a friend, and worse, refuses to let go, things can get painfully awkward, to say the least. If this keeps happening over and over again, it can be pretty tough for you as a parent. Can anything be done? Fortunately, yes.

Why does a toddler bite?

It would appear that at times a toddler bites others for no apparent reason and hence, this habit becomes a concern. Biting is, on the contrary, quite common among toddlers and there is nothing wrong with a child who bites. For the sake of social aptness however, parents feel compelled to try to put a stop to it. Before we get into some solutions, let’s see why a toddler bites in the first place!

They’re ‘communicating’

We can express our feeling and thoughts through speech but toddlers can’t just yet! At least, they can’t express exactly what they’re feeling, so there will be several emotions and intense feelings that they just can’t seem to find a way to express, other than just biting the nearest thing or person. So, there you have it, it’s not even personal. – Biting is just a way of communicating for them, a way of conveying how they feel. They may even bite someone because they like the person a lot!

Their very first natural self-defense mechanism

When toddlers bite (or hit) someone, they can see that the other person moves away. Hence, they quite ingeniously gather that that in order to be safe, they have to either bite or hit. Thus, a child who happens to be feeling insecure or anxious, might resort to biting and hitting to feel better.

Reaction and attention seeking

It’s no secret that most toddlers are either seeking attention or are quietly up to mischief in the corner somewhere. They would have noticed that the moment they bite, they become the center of attention and to them, any attention is better than no attention! Thus, if at any given point of time they’re feeling neglected, they might resort to biting so that mummy will turn around and look!

Show of frustration

Toddlers are known to bite out of sheer frustration too. If they want a toy or are wearing uncomfortable clothes, they feel irritated and start biting others, because that is the only way they can show that things are not the way they want it to be.

Your little Einstein might be experimenting!

Toddlers are always experimenting, in one way or another, with their bodies. They are an exceptionally curious lot, and are eager to know how each body part works. So, they may end up biting others in order to know what their teeth can do. Biting is also a common phenomenon when a toddler is experiencing baby teething. Don’t believe us? Try offering a clean finger to a teething baby, but don’t tell us we didn’t warn you!

Addressing the issue

Find out what triggers or causes your toddler to resort to biting others. Usually, there is a pattern in this behavior and if you pay attention, you may be able to pick up on the signs just before a biting episode occurs. For example, you’ll notice that your toddler keeps biting others when hungry or when he does not get something that he wants. If you can identify the triggers, you might be able to stop it before it happens and possibly save the day, so to speak. Here are some guidelines as to what to look for:

  • Understand the little one’s body language. That way, you’ll be able to sense when he is going to bite someone, and you can divert his attention to something else.
  • Teach other ways of self-expression. This may take some time and effort on your part, but the result may bring you relief! Show your little one how to hug or touch a friend’s cheek, instead of biting, when he wants to show love and affection.
  • Resist showing attention when he bites someone. This might appear to be a sneaky trick, but go to the victim and hug him in front of your toddler. This will make the toddler realize that whoever he bites is getting all the attention instead of him.
  • Do not pacify your toddler after he has bitten someone! Instead, communicate how unhappy you are with this behavior. Do it continuously, whether he understands what you’re saying or not. This is one of the best ways to discipline him.
  • Refrain from ‘playfully’ biting them yourself. When babies see that adults and family members are playfully biting their toes or fingers, they think of it as a normal activity. After all, babies and toddlers are highly impressionable copy cats!
  • Get help. If your child’s biting behavior is getting more and more aggressive, visit a doctor for advice on a better solution to the problem.

Actions to avoid

Shaming or harsh punishment do not help in any way to reduce biting. Instead, these actions only increase your child’s fear and worry – which can unwittingly compel a toddler to keep biting. Aggressive responses like these also do not teach your child the social skills he or she needs to cope with the situations that trigger these biting incidents.

Some parents feel that biting your child back might do the trick, but it’s not a useful response and there is no research to show this curbs or reduces biting. It may backlash in fact, and your child might end up gathering that it’s alright to bite people when you are upset! Keep in mind that human bites can be dangerous, and biting constitutes child abuse. Biting your child as a punishment is never an appropriate response to toddler biting.

Moving on from biting incidents

Once the dust has settled, ask your child “What would you like to play now?”. It might help to offer activities, like play-dough, drawing, or playing in sand or water, that allow them to release energy in constructive ways. Activities also helps to distract them and help them relax. Point to remember: The toddler who bit and the child who was hurt should not be made to play with one another, unless they want to.

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