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Wolverhampton Information Network

A Guide to Biting

Biting is part of early childhood, but understanding the causes and ways of dealing with it can be helpful.

Five things to know about biting

  1. Age – biting tends to occur during the ages of 18 months to 3 years. This means that although biting is an unwanted behaviour, it can be seen as and responded to as normal behaviour. Biting in older children is quite rare and may be in response to underlying reasons, such as emotional upheavals. Biting can also be linked to difficulties with language or social communication.
  2. Exploring – the mouth region is a mass of sensory receptors, making it an ideal area for young children to explore world. As soon as babies can grab they instantly taking items into their mouth. Children from 18 months to 3 years are still exploring by putting things in their mouths, so first bites tend to be an exploratory accident. For many children this first bite does not mean they will go on to bite again.
  3. Impulsiveness – young children who bite tend to be quite impulsiveness and may have little self-control. This means that bites are not planned and may happen again even if an adult has asked the child not to bite again. This impulsiveness means that any reprimanding, such as time out, may have very little effect on reducing or stopping biting.
  4. Frustration – some bites occur due to sheer frustration as some children do not have the language or social skills to express or negotiate how they are feeling, e.g. a child may bite in order to get something from another child. The link between language and social skills and biting is one of the main reasons why children over the age of 3 don’t bite.
  5. Feeling good – Biting is usually associated with a pleasurable experience, such as eating. This means that a child may bite as a result of an overwhelming feelings of happiness or enjoyment.

Dealing and Preventing Biting

While finding out that your child has bitten another child, or that your child has been bitten can be alarming, there can never be any guarantees it won’t happen again.

  1. Sleep patterns – impulsiveness and poor self-control can be a reaction to over tiredness. If biting occurs during the late afternoon or early evening it may be because the child needs more rest, possibly an early afternoon nap
  2. Visual messages – some children begin biting by kissing, building up into a gentle bite. Try to distract the child before the bite occurs. If the bite does happen, stand up or put the child away from you, say ‘no’ and frown. Maintaining a serious face for a while rather than using words, children in the biting age range are more likely to interpret that this behaviour is not acceptable through strong visual messages
  3. Breaking the habit – Once a child has bitten, there is a likelihood it will occur again, and can develop into a habit. The best way to deal with a habit is to change the situation or routine in which the biting occurs, e.g. if a child tends to bite while indoors, allow them more time outdoors
  4. Interaction with your child – spending more time with your child can support with their language and social skills. Spend time sharing books or helping complete household tasks. Ask your child questions that need more than a ‘yes’ / ‘no’ response
  5. Older siblings – It is normal for older siblings to want to show their position within the hierarchy of the family unit. Some bites happen as a result of younger children trying to cope with the ‘teasing’ of an older sibling. Observe the time and type of interactions between siblings, and step in before a situation escalates into a biting incident

The key thing to remember, if you are the parent of a child who has bitten, or has been bitten is not to over react.

Be careful of the advice of other people, especially if they advise you to ‘bite them back’. This would be a criminal offence and is classed as physical abuse.

If you have tried the above strategies and are still worried about the extent of your child’s biting, speak to your Health Visitor, G.P, or pop into your local Strengthening Families Hub.

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