Biting and Your Child
Let’s explore a common toddler behavior: biting. It is normal, of course, for babies to bite. After all, everyone learns to bite and chew food! However, it is a different story when youngsters bite other children. This kind of behavior is shocking to parents and caregivers alike – and painful to the biting victim. “No Bites” gives practical suggestions on how to react when this happens at home or in a child care program.
It is understandable that some children bite to release stress or frustration. Mouths automatically react to emotions. When we are under stress, our jaw muscles are among the first to get tense. But, when children bite other people, not just their toys and food, the behavior needs to addressed. Research shows that such biting is “normal,” or expected behavior, for the 10% to 15% of children who are born with emotionally intense temperaments. (Biters may have other inborn temperament traits, including a very sensitive body, shyness in new situations and difficulty with both unexpected changes and routine transitions.) For children who are emotionally intense, all feelings are strong; there are no small events in their lives. Everything is either wonderful or terrible. Furthermore, because of their strong emotions, their jaws also react strongly, whether they feel happy or upset. Parents of such children sometimes report that even a loving hug or a kiss can end up leaving teeth marks, because the child gets so excited by the joy of being close.
Not surprisingly, intense children are especially inclined to bite before they can talk – before they can use words to express their strong feelings. Because their feelings are so intense, these children may be three years old or even older before they get their instinctive biting completely under control. Caregivers, be they parents or child care providers, need to show biters alternative ways to deal with intense feelings. First and foremost, carefully observe the biter. Try to identify when and why the biting happens. Once you find a behavior pattern, use the chart below to develop a response.
Reprinted with the permission of BANANAS, Inc. © 2007 BANANAS
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