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Posted by Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP on December 22, 2016
Kids biting is not uncommon. Think of biting as a way of communicating. Infants and young children don't yet have the expressive language skills to “tell" an adult or another child that they are angry, feeling frustrated, excited, fearful, overwhelmed, tired, bored, that someone is invading their space, etc. So the most important thing to do is to be an ‘investigator’ and get to the bottom of why the child is biting, and what they are trying to say in doing so.
Document what happened immediately before the biting occurred to see if there is a pattern - the time of day, what room the child was in, what he/she was doing, who was around, etc. Is it always the same person being bitten? Maybe they need to be kept apart. Is it a particular activity that is causing frustration? Maybe that activity is too difficult or not difficult enough. Are they bored? If so, he/she may need more teacher-directed playtime and less free time / open play (especially at the time when the biting tends to occur). Are they frustrated because they can’t verbalize their wants/needs yet? Teach them some basic signs until verbal language catches up. Is another child playing with their favorite toy? Practice turn-taking. And so forth. Once you have some history, you can better pinpoint the trigger(s) and either avoid or address them moving forward.
Watch for signs BEFORE child bites so that you can work preemptively before it happens. Keep an eye on body language and facial expressions. If it looks like they’re about to bite, distract them with a different toy or activity. Maybe they need a break to spend some time reading in a cozy corner of the room for example. Or maybe they’re tired and need a nap. Etc. Once they’ve calmed down, they can rejoin the group. Allowing the child to take breaks where he/she can get up and down and move around throughout the day (before it gets to that point) may also help.
Keep in mind that sensory overload can also lead to biting. Try to identify what is elevating or intensifying the situation to cause a sensory overload (too many loud noises, too many people, not enough stimulation, etc.). For kids who have sensory needs, providing deep pressure/proprioceptive input by hugging can help calm and regulate. Other kids may find vestibular movement like jumping or rocking calming instead. Make sure they’re getting enough physical activity throughout the day. Consult with an occupational therapist.
Has something changed recently in the child’s life? New classroom, new classmates, and/or new schedule at school? Have they moved to a new house or do they have a new sibling? Anything new/unknown/different can potentially elevate stress, frustration, fear. Biting may be the child’s way of telling you that he/she isn’t coping well with the new changes.
Check for oral pain, either from cavities or new teeth coming in. This can often cause pain that contributes to biting. Think about having headache for instance - people are more likely to be irritable / in a bad mood when they’re not feeling well.
Remember that for infants/toddlers, biting is a way for them to learn about their environment. So some kids may just be exploring. They are also learning about emotions and reactions, and biting definitely produces reactions!
Check the diet - if the child is on mostly puréed foods, they may be seeking more oral input and harder to chew foods. Increase food textures, add more harder-to-chew foods, and/or do gum massage if necessary.
In the meantime while you get to the bottom of why, give the child a chew tool as a safer, more appropriate outlet. Each time the child tries to bite someone, say “no” or “no bite" and redirect the child towards his/her chew tool. If developmentally appropriate, you can say “we don't bite people, biting hurts.” Be consistent and patient and stay calm. And remember to praise good behavior too. Console the child/person who was bitten so that the biter can see that the child bitten is getting more attention and sympathy.
For older kids (5 years and up), chewable necklaces are a great fit as a chew tool. For younger kids (under 5 years) a Grabber, Y-Chew, and/or bracelet would be more age appropriate. A lot of parents/teachers do also give our necklaces to kids younger than 5 years, but in that case supervision would be especially important.
All of our chew tools come in 3 color-coded toughness levels. As a substitute for biting other people, the standard/soft level would be best. Unless they are also biting/chewing on other non-food items and regularly chewing through those items, in which case the tougher XT or possibly XXT levels hold up to that better. If that’s the case, you may also want to check out these related posts:
I hope you’ve found this helpful!
Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP