When 2-year-old Sophie ran crying to her mother during a play date, the teeth marks on her arm were all that were needed to figure out the source of her tears. Joined by another crying and guilty-looking 2-year-old, the horrified mother quickly determined that Sophie's playmate had bitten her when she wouldn't relinquish a favorite stuffed toy.
Why Young Children Bite
According to Parenthood.com, many children go through a biting phase between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Biting at this age can be triggered by excitement, frustration, stress or anger, and is generally the result of what the child is experiencing at the moment.
Toddlers who may not have the language skills to deal with a difficult situation use biting as a way to communicate and control others in their environment. They may bite to get attention, however negative it may be. They may bite because they have seen other children bite or in self-defense. Fortunately, this phase usually passes as children learn to better express themselves, and is generally considered a problem only if it continues past the age of 3 years.
What You Can Do
When your child is under a year and teething and biting on anything that gets near her mouth, including your fingers, it is easy to understand and rationalize her need to chomp on something. Coping with biting becomes more difficult -- and more embarrassing -- when your toddler engages in this behavior, especially if she is biting other children.
Determining when and why your child is biting is an essential first step in helping him stop this behavior. Does he bite when he is tired? Does he bite the same person in your household or the same playmate? Does he bite when he wants a toy? Does he only bite when he is in daycare or with a caregiver other than you? Has a major change taken place in his life that is upsetting him?
Once you have identified the source of your child's frustration, anger or stress, you can watch for the signs that cause biting and take action to prevent conflicts, including redirecting your child to other activities that will prevent biting incidents, providing extra attention in times of stress, or removing your child from a situation that is frustrating him and replacing it with something less challenging.
When your child does bite it is important that you remain calm. Say "no, we do not bite" in a firm and disapproving tone. Tell her that biting is not okay because it hurts other people. Suggest other ways for her to express her feelings, such as "Use your words to tell Beth you are angry at her for taking your doll." If necessary, remove her from the situation and other children until she calms down.
What Not to Do
Biting should not be ignored in the hopes it will go away. It needs to be addressed with a message that makes it clear that it is an unacceptable behavior. However, you should never bite your child back to show him what it is like to be bitten or use any other physical punishment to discipline him. Such action on your part indicates that it is okay to use violence and encourages him to continue to use aggressive behavior to express himself.
When to Seek Help
In most cases, biting ceases as toddlers develop their language skills and are better able to express frustration and anger. The American Psychological Association advises that if your young child has problems with frequent biting or other aggressive behaviors that persist beyond the age of 3 years, you should seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of behavior problems in very young children.