As the mother of two toddlers, Mallory Davis faces a common problem. Her son and daughter, who have always been the best of friends, have recently begun to bite. While Mallory tries reasoning with them and sending them into time out, sooner or later they wind up fighting again and she finds another inflamed bite mark.
Mallory feels alone, but she isn’t. Biting is common among toddlers. Yet many parents are at a loss as to how to address it. We spoke with Katherine Kitzmann, associate professor and director of child and family studies at the University of Memphis, to get her advice on how best to stop biting.
Why do children bite?
Biting is a natural and common behavior for babies and young toddlers. Often, children resort to biting because they haven’t developed good skills for expressing feelings through words. Some children continue to bite as a way of communicating strong emotions, such as frustration or anger. Biting usually stops by age 3.
Some people say you should bite your child back. Is this a good idea?
No. Biting back communicates that biting is okay under certain circumstances. It might stop the biting in the situation, but it does not do much to teach other ways of communicating.
What is an effective way to deal with this type of behavior?
• Prevention: Avoid activities that are may frustrate or overstimulate your child. Some examples include overcrowding, competing for toys, and inconsistent routines. • Attitude: Remember, it is the behavior that is unacceptable, not the child. Use a calm voice to correct your child but avoid shaming him. Remember, your child has not yet learned better ways to cope with strong emotions. Help him by talking about his feelings. • Response: Kneel down and speak to your child at a regular volume. In a firm but calm voice, say “No! Biting is not okay.” Then remove him from the situation. Try to help your child get through the frustration that triggered the biting in the first place. Once he is calm, reintroduce him to the group.
Any other advice to parents?
Don’t feel ashamed! Children progress at different rates in every aspect of development. This includes the transition from biting to dealing with emotions in better ways.