Biting: A Common Problem

My 2 year old son keeps biting his sister. Is this normal? What can I do?

This is a rather common problem. In fact, one out of ten toddlers bites., it is According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, there are 4 different types of biters:

The experimental biter: An infant or young child may take an experimental bite out of a mother's breast or a caregiver's shoulder. Experimental biters may simply want to touch, smell and taste others in order to learn. In other words, they need to experiment. This type of biting may also be a result of teething pain. When this occurs, adults should make it very clear that children must not bite, like by saying "NO!" sternly.

The frustrated biter: Some children may not yet have the skills to deal with wanting an adult's attention or another child's toy. Even though the child may not intend to harm, caregivers must react with disapproval. First, the victim should be tended immediately and then explain to the biter that biting hurts and is not allowed. Such children need to learn the appropriate language and skills to show their feelings or get what they need, without resorting to aggressive acts such as biting. So, parents should watch for signs of rising frustration and give positive reinforcement when a child communicates effectively, without biting.

The threatened biter: Certain children bite in self-defense because they are overwhelmed or afraid in their surroundings, and bite as a means of regaining control. Situations such as newly separated parents, the death of a grandparent, or a mother returning to the work may be stressing or threatening the child. The threatened biter may require additional nurturing, particularly if the danger is related to physical violence or other problems in the home setting. In this circumstance, the caregiver should be as warm and reassuring as possible.

The power biter: Some children experience a strong need for autonomy and control. As soon as they see the response they get from biting, this behavior is strongly reinforced, so they continue to bite. In this situation the biter should be given choices throughout the day. Also, they need a lot of positive reinforcement when they do things like sharing and saying thanks instead of resorting to biting. If the biter gets attention when not biting, she/he will not have to bite in order to gain as a sense of power.

Here are some general rules on how to approach children that bite others:

  • If a child bites, remain calm and in control
     
  • Never hit or "bite back" a child for biting
     
  • Parents and caregivers need to cooperate (make sure the same approach is used both at home and school or day care)
     
  • Be ready to intervene immediately, but carefully
     
  • And, teach children how to control themselves, something that encourages the development of confidence and self-esteem.