Have you found your child biting other kids or even adults? Biting is normal, but you can still learn how to stop children biting when you apply these 6 important steps.
My twins’ preschool teacher wanted to talk at school pickup, which is usually not a good sign. But I figured, Ok, maybe one of them had a potty accident.
“Today, I saw one of your boys about to bite his brother on the arm,” she began. “And a few days ago another boy said he’d bitten him during circle time.”
Turns out my little guy was biting other kids. I’ve noticed it myself as well at home. He’s usually excited and tries to bite my hand or arm.
I knew from what I’ve heard and read that biting is common among many kids. A few weeks ago, I was even reassuring a friend that her daughter wasn’t bad or misbehaving because she too had bitten a classmate.
But that day at their preschool, I knew what my friend felt. It somehow felt different when that child was my own. I had to reassure myself this time that his biting isn’t likely to escalate and that he isn’t a “biter.”
Why children biting is normal
So, what makes biting common among young children? These reasons in particular. Kids…
- Don’t have ways to express their feelings
- Need to relieve pressure in their teeth
- Need more activity and play time
How to stop kids from biting
As normal as biting may be, we still need to find ways to help kids stop this behavior. After all, we can use the opportunity to teach more appropriate ways to communicate. Plus, we don’t want anyone else to get hurt from the biting.
What are a few ways to stop them from biting? Here’s what I learned:
Don’t label your child as a “biter”
Before we even begin to address our kids, we need to change our mindset. And it starts with avoiding labeling them as “biters.”
Labeling your child as a biter only reinforces the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. Plus, biting isn’t about being a certain type of person or not.
And by not calling him a biter, you avoid thinking of biting as ingrained within your child rather than a behavior he can grow out of.
Find your child’s triggers
Every child has his or her own reasons why they bit another person. My three-year-old bit during circle time, which tells me he might’ve felt frustrated at the lack of physical space he had.
What are your child’s triggers? Observe and take note of the last few times he bit others. When did he typically bite? How was he feeling? Was he overwhelmed, stimulated, or excited? Could he have been frustrated with another child?
The more we can pinpoint their triggers, the more we can prevent them from happening. If physical space is an issue for my child, I know now to make sure he doesn’t feel cramped by other kids.
If you’re like me, you may have found yourself overreacting when you see your child bite. After all, we may worry the other child gets hurt, or we feel embarrassed that it was our child who had bitten someone else.
And we know biting isn’t good behavior, so we might feel tempted to overemphasize our point.
Problem is, kids don’t respond well when we overreact. They don’t often know they’re doing something wrong when they bite. In their minds, they think the other child has done them an injustice. Or perhaps they felt too stimulated or excited. Maybe they just needed a good bite to relieve any tension in their mouth, especially if they’re teething.
Overreacting might make your child feel shocked, ashamed or confused about why we’re reacting the way we are. Instead, keep calm and be firm when you speak and explain why biting isn’t right.
Say firmly and kindly: “We don’t bite”
Once you’ve kept your reactions collected and calm, explain further why we don’t bite. Be firm to show your child that biting is serious, but be kind to let him know you understand and won’t stop loving him.
It’s a balance between being too harsh and making sure they understand the gravity of biting. Explain the reason in a matter-of-fact way to avoid your anger from flaring.
Your best bet? Keep emotions out of the way. It’s difficult, I know. We’re usually mortified when our kids bite and tend to overcompensate by being extra harsh. But they need us to be calm source of love and support for behavior they may not always understand.
Encourage your child to use words and other gestures
Biting often happens because kids don’t have a sophisticated way to communicate their feelings. My son didn’t like it when other kids encroached on his space. Others might feel upset when kids take their toys or overcome with emotion when they see their loved ones.
And so they bite. We’d already explained that biting hurts and isn’t an appropriate way to behave. Now our job is to encourage them to use words instead of biting.
We do that first by labeling emotions of all kinds, from happy and excited to sad and anxious. The more we label the emotions we see our kids experience, the more likely they’ll begin to use those same words to express how they feel.
Then, when your child does bite, explain what he can say: “I see you’re so excited to see me, but we don’t bite. You can put your arms around my neck instead.” Or “You didn’t like it when she took your toy, but biting hurts. Next time, you can say, ‘I’m not done’.”
It’s important to say what your child might be feeling, or the words he wishes he could say. They bite because they can’t articulate these feelings just yet. It’s up to us to “guess” what they feel so they can begin to formulate those words and gestures themselves.
Offer a teething toy
If you notice your child bites because of an oral sensation he needs to soothe, consider giving him a teething toy.
Often the biting stems from the need to soothe teeth and gums which items like teething toys can help with. Here are a few we’ve used and recommend (affiliate links):
I’m happy to report that my little has stopped biting. And that’s the reassuring thought we need to remember when our kids go through stages like these: It will pass. What seems like a dire circumstances they’ll forever be stuck in will likely pass given a few days or weeks time.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to help it along. Avoid calling your child a “biter” and instead find the triggers that set him off. Keep your emotions calm and collected and let him know that biting is inappropriate.
And finally, show your child more appropriate ways to handle the triggers that make him bite, like using words and teething toys.
Your child will find ways to better cope instead of biting—and you just might avoid another dreaded conversation with the teacher.
Bonus tip: Read books about biting
SSBE readers suggested reading books about biting, particularly Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick. Repeating familiar quotes from the book can help cement the idea further:
Get more tips:
- The Parenting Technique You Shouldn’t Follow
- How to Stop Siblings from Fighting and Teach Conflict Resolution Instead
- 7 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Share
- Why You Should Always Intervene when Adults Overwhelm Your Child
- 9 Playground Rules You and Your Kids Should Remember
Tell me in the comments: Did your child bite others? What tips worked best to help him or her stop biting?
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