Now that this school term is well underway, many of our calls in the last few weeks have been from parents concerned that their child is exhibiting behaviours that are concerning creche, Kindergarten and of course the parents once they are made aware. A very common behaviour we are asked about is biting.
Biting is a very normal exploratory phase for most children but for some if they are biting more regularly, it can be distressing for all concerned. This week's blog aims to shed some light on this behaviour.
WHY DOES MY CHILD BITE?
For most children aged between 0 and 3; biting is a natural continuation of exploration with their mouths. Whether toys, food or fingers; they are just exploring the sensation of having something in their mouths and until all their teeth develop, this problem is not upsetting or painful. For children aged 2 -3 who have all their teeth and are biting other children, the causes can be varied. Depending on their level of speech, it may have become a communication tool for them when they are unable to describe the emotions that they are feeling whether being frustrated; overwhelmed or even over excited. For some children it is a way of exploring their environment and the boundaries within it - they simply want to see what will happen if they bite. For others, it becomes their automatic response for not getting something that they want eg - when someone takes a toy they were playing with. Biting almost always allows the child to receive attention even when it is negative and they enjoy the idea of getting a reaction! Another common cause is that they are looking for stimulation in their mouth. They are searching for the feeling of chewing on something. This can often be associated with teething or when children are particularly congested or have excess saliva.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT MY CHILD FROM BITING?
It is important to first understand what is causing your child to bite. In order to do this, it is helpful to keep a diary of all biting incidents and try to recognise patterns. The biggest tip to helping your child not to bite is to try where possible to avoid the situations that lead to them biting: eg.. If you notice that they often bite when a particular toy is taken from them; don't allow that toy to go to school with them or be played with by other children on a play date. Distraction is always a great idea when you are in situations that are overwhelming or particularly exciting for your child. Give them age appropriate tasks to do that will keep them focused and allow them to channel their energy in a more positive direction. If you notice that your child is becoming anxious and you are concerned they may bite or you have seen the warning signs, it is a good idea to have a place in your house where they can go and sit and relax. This could be a corner with a beanbag and their favourite books but should be somewhere quiet and a place where they can sit calmly for a little while until the excitement/ anxiety/ feeling of being overwhelmed has passed. When children are teething or if your child seems to put everything in their mouth, it can help to provide things specially for that purpose. Give them extra snacks to chew on or when teething allow them to suck on something instead of someone!! If your child has a small vocabulary, try to work with them on how to express their feelings in words rather than actions. Finally, if a situation arises where your child does bite, once you have told them that biting is not acceptable, your attention should be on the person they bit. Even negative attention is enjoyable for a toddler so limit the amount that they are given. This includes them being labelled as a biter so try to avoid that if you can and ask the creche/ school to avoid it as well.
The good news is that for most children this is a very temporary stage and one that they grow out of by 3 1/2!!
We hope some of these strategies help you and your child's main carers to be reassured.