Biting is typical behaviour seen in babies and toddlers.
In the case of babies, biting is an experiment. They bite their teething toys, their mother’s breast, their pacifier, and their parents! Usually, the parent’s immediate flinch or cry of surprise communicates to the child that biting hurts, and after a few experiments the child will learn enough about biting to move on, and their experiments cease. There’s nothing bad or wrong with these biting experiments; the baby is doing what he or she must do to learn.
Later, toddlers can revisit the biting stage – often biting other children. Unfortunately, the parents of the bitten child tend to become energetic protectors, leaving the parents of the biting child feeling they or their child are somehow bad.
Biting is commonplace behaviour that has nothing to do with how good a child is, or how well they are parented. Toddlers bite because they lack the language skills necessary to express themselves.
Biting is a substitute for the messages the child can’t yet express in words - and their message may one of anger or it may be one of excitement.
“I am mad at you.”
“You are standing too close to me.”
“I am really excited.”
“I want to play with you.”
Toddlers may also bite when they:
- are overwhelmed by the sounds, light or the activity level around them;
- need more active playtime;
- need space;
- are over-tired;
- are teething; or
- in need for oral stimulation.
But, children don’t bite to hurt. They bite because a big wave of tension suddenly floods their brain. They don’t plan this, and they don’t know how to stop it.
The fact that a toddler has feelings that are being expressed in biting isn’t the fault of the parent, or of the toddler.
Biting is like a runny nose: it’s common, it’s not fun for the child or the parents, and it can affect other children adversely, but it’s not the sign that anyone is “bad.” As children mature, gain self-control and develop problem-solving skills, they usually outgrow this behaviour.