It can be difficult to understand the reasons why children bite, especially if it's your own child doing the biting! It's common for children between the ages of 2-3 to go through a biting phase - my son currently is one of them. There are many reasons why children bite and almost none of them point to an aggressive or mean child. Take heart and know that it's a very common occurrence and have patience because it will be over soon! If you're not a parent yourself, this will be beneficial for you as well because you'll have more understanding that it's usually not a product of bad parenting. Here are some helpful reasons why young kids bite.
For younger children, teething can definitely be the culprit responsible for a harsh bite. Even when toddlers are cutting their 2 year old molars, they can feel the urge to bite down. Take note if they are biting other things as well like toys, pillows, and books. You could remedy the situation by soothing their teething gums with teething tablets and something solid and cold to chew on. Teething is one of the big reasons why children bite!
2. They Explore Things Orally
From a very young age, children explore their surroundings by using their mouth as a guide. From the beginnings of nursing to putting dirt in their mouth, biting can just be another method of exploration to get information from their surroundings and a reaction from others.
3. It's How They Express Frustration
When young children, particularly toddlers, become stressed, frustrated, angry or confused, a common reaction is to bite the adult or child within the immediate vicinity of his or her anger. This is simply a response to strong emotions they don't yet know how to process. Toddlers throwing tantrums is generally the reactive response to frustrated emotions. Even though this behavior is totally normal for children, it cannot go unchecked. Pull the child in close to you, affirm their feelings of frustration, explain to them why the behavior isn't appropriate, and give them another outlet for their emotions. Most importantly, parents need to be consistent with their response to biting and tantrum outbursts and convey their methods to daycare workers, teachers and relatives to maintain continuity.
4. They're Seeking Attention
Children get bored really easily. They almost always need some sort of activity to keep them going and usually that involves adult or other children's affection and attention. When my son doesn't get enough of my attention on the days we're super busy, he will act out in either bad or possibly destructive behavior. Biting is a common behavioral issue when children are just simply seeking attention and a reaction from a loving adult. While bad behavior shouldn't be ignored, it should be understood that possibly the child just needs more of your time and intentional engagement. I've noticed a world of difference in his behavior towards myself and others when we are actively playing together during the day.
5. They're Showing Affection
Biting isn't necessarily a response to anger or frustration. Sometimes children bite when they are happy and excited, as well. This goes back to the same topic of children not knowing how to process strong emotions so they react by biting. My son tends to bite me when we are playing and he's all wound up. It's actually cute (he doesn't bite hard) but he still needs to know that it's not ok even during play time. Remember to be consistent and always tell a child "no biting"!
6. They're Hungry/Tired
A lot of negative behavior can be traced back to a child being either hungry, tired or both. Some children are more sensitive than others to hunger and exhaustion, but for most, this is an ideal state for them to lose control, throw tantrums, scream, cry, bite, hit, etc. So, make sure you set up a child for success by scheduling actives after or before nap, and make sure he's well fed and snacks are always available. It makes a world of difference in behavior and listening skills!
7. They're Overstimulated
The world is a fascinating place just waiting for kids to learn and explore. At times, an environment can be overwhelming and cause a child to be too stimulated, thus heightening his or her anxiety and frustration level. Again, at the 2-3 age range, processing a lot of information and strong stimuli is challenging and can be expressed through negative emotions like tantrums, hitting or biting. Take note if an environment is just too crowded, busy, loud, etc and have a little grace when there is an incident of bad behavior. And as much as possible, avoid blatantly obvious scenarios of likely misbehavior.
I know first hand that it can be challenging and even embarrassing when your child, or a child entrusted in your care, bites someone. For unknown reasons, some people look down on parents as neglectful or disengaged when their child bites. This is not OK. Biting, although a little unnerving, is totally normal! Remember to be consistent with discipline and reinforce good behavior. Have you or someone you know gone thorough a season with a biting toddler? What steps did you take to prevent future biting?