It can be a shock when you find out that your child has bitten another child. You might question whether you’ve neglected to teach them something, or think you’ve done something wrong to cause them to act out in this way. The truth is that biting usually has less to do with you and more to do with the child and his or her ability to deal with frustration.
When kids are very young, they are still learning to process and deal with social stress. Figuring out how to interact successfully with other kids can take awhile, and it can be a difficult process. It’s not uncommon for toddlers and preschoolers to bite or hit other children simply because they do not have any other methods for coping. The tendency for most parents is to offer a stern, “no biting!” and to punish the child with a time-out or something along those lines. Author and educator Mary Hartzell points out that this actually isn’t a very effective method since it gives attention to the behavior without offering a solution. Instead, help your child figure out more appropriate ways to express their frustration. Explain to them that while it is normal to feel upset sometimes, biting isn’t an acceptable way of venting.
Preschool teacher Daniel Asres echoes this theory about incidental biting - that it’s usually frustration being worked out rather than a manifestation of some serious problem. Take a biting child aside and explain that biting is not only against the rules but that it hurts others. This can help to foster empathy, which will go a long way in helping to curtail aggressive outbursts.
Remember, it is often best to observe and intervene in a non-disciplinary way. What this means is that you can watch your child as he or she plays so that you can recognize when frustrations are mounting. That’s when you can step in and explain that you noticed that the child was getting upset and that maybe they should take a moment to regain their composure. Author and educator Elizabeth Pantley says that you should give them some alternatives to hitting or biting. Teach them some phrases they can use to help them communicate better with other kids. You can also have a child do something like clap their hands when they feel the urge to act out violently toward someone else. This gives them a way to physically release the anger they feel without hurting anyone.
If the problem persists without improvement, there may be a deeper underlying problem. Perhaps there’s a situation at home that the child feels helpless in coping with their anger. Simply talking about this and acknowledging their feelings can help to alleviate some of the stress that can lead to things like biting.