Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Biting Toddlers

Monika Pis, PhD, CPNP

During toddler years, almost all children bite at one time or another. Studies show that about half of the toddlers in daycare are bitten on average 3 times a year! Now that's something you can sink your teeth into.

First things first: there are 3 stages of biting. The first stage occurs when your child’s teeth begin to erupt. Your child is likely to experiment by biting on a rattle or a teething ring. Breastfed infants who bite the breast will quickly learn not to, mostly because the mother will remove the child from the breast. Also, an infant senses the negative emotional response and eventually stops biting to avoid upsetting the mother.

The second stage of biting occurs around your child's first birthday. At that time, infants bite to express their excitement. If biting is consistently met with a firm response from the parent, the behavior should stop fairly quickly.

The third stage of biting may take place in the second year of life. During that time, your child learns new skills and has a very strong desire to be independent. If her attempts to gain autonomy are unsuccessful, she might become frustrated and bite to express her anger. Since your child's language skills do not let her express herself adequately at this stage, she might bite for attention, when she does not get what she wants, or when she is stressed out. Once your child develops language skills that allow her to express her feelings, this stage of biting will pass very quickly.

Aggressive children tend to bite more. Also, boys tend to bite more than girls. You can prevent biting when you learn what triggers this behavior in your child.

How to decrease biting in toddlers:

- Supervise your child closely.
- Acknowledge positive behaviors.
- Offer an object to bite on (i.e. teething ring, or a washcloth)
- Respond to biting right away with a firm voice, and place your toddler in time-out.

When your child bites another person, you must act immediately. Get down to your child’s level, look her in the eye, and say, "No!" Offer a simple explanation, such as, "We don’t bite people." Children 2 years of age and older can be put a in time-out, one minute per year of life. Remember that time-out serves as punishment for undesirable behaviors, such as biting, thus offer no interaction with your child during the time your child 'serves the sentence.'

Consistency in your response to your child’s biting will help you extinguish this behavior quickly and help your child learn that biting is not an acceptable way of expressing feelings.

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