Why is my little one biting?

By Step by Step Consulting

As we have all experienced, toddlers will test and push boundaries- it’s their job, but it’s also part of child development. They can test in many different ways; and if something doesn’t work, they’ll try a new tactic, they are very creative and inventive little things! Some of the most common tactics we see is flopping to the floor in the shops or playground to get more of
something, persistent asking when a parent is on the phone or engaged with another adult and verbal refusals. You may have also seen other behaviours such as pushing, kicking, hitting and even biting. It is a given that the latter behaviours often cause more of a response and reaction from us, especially biting! 


If your little one is biting, understanding why it is happening is key to addressing and subsequently reducing the biting. Believe it or not, biting does not always happen because a child is angry or annoyed. Instead, it can be their way of communicating with us. Next time, biting happens, ask yourself what is your child achieving from the bite or what’s in it for them? What was the initial reaction to the bite? Asking these tough questions will help us understand the why! It will also reinforce that biting happens for a reason. It is not
because your child is bold, nor is it necessarily because they are feeling really angry, it is often because it is effective!

Ella and Mia both love playing play doh, Ella was in the middle
of making a beautiful castle for her princess to live in, she needed the pink play doh to finish her castle. Mia took the last of the pink play doh, Ella repeatedly asked for it back but Mia refused. After the refusal, Ella bit Mia’s arm. Mia immediately dropped the play doh and ran away. Ella picked up the play doh and finished her beautiful castle. 

Was Ella bold for biting Mia? Did Ella intend on hurting Mia? No, of course not! Ella was thinking about getting the play doh! Although not appropriate, biting was effective for Ella. It was an effective way of communicating what she wanted.

Once we switch how we view behaviour, we can respond more effectively and begin to look for solutions that will support children in learning new ways to respond. Spending play time with Ella with the goal of creating opportunities for her to hear and accept no or to wait her turn could help her out
immensely. Often, children need to be shown and told how to respond instead of how not to respond. Rather than solely focusing on “Ella do not bite again, play doh is finished”, we can role play and show her what to do. This is teaching the replacement for Ella rather than allowing Ella to be faced with the same situation again in the future and not know how to get
the item without relying on the biting. 

Biting can help a child get out of doing something that they do not want to do. Imagine, taking your child’s hand to lead them out of a toy shop, at this moment if there was a bite, our immediate reaction would be to move our hand away. Here, biting has helped them get what they want. Again, the child’s intention is not to hurt anybody, the focus may be getting
out of a parent’s hand hold.  Similarly, for children who love adult attention and connection, it can be a useful strategy in getting this! Often children don't mind whether attention is positive or negative and so if they bite a person, toy etc. all of a sudden everyones eyes are on them and rushing to the scene, guess what? That got a pretty big reaction from all the adults.


Naturally, the response from us can be over the top and animated, therefore your child may rely on this again because it worked so well. 
Remember that all behaviour, including biting, is a form of communication. Where toddlers may find it difficult to verbalise things such as “Hey, I don’t want to do this” or “Hey, you took my toy and I’m upset about that” or “Give me that toy, I want a turn” they can resort to biting or other behaviour to communicate these wants and needs.

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