Years ago — before I had kids of my own — a mom friend of mine referred to a 2 year old child who bit her daughter on the cheek as a “future Hannibal Lecter” who would probably be torturing small animals by middle school. I will admit that I laughed and cheered her on while she demonized the parents, the daycare and the child. Oh, to be young and naïve. Unfortunately this is how most people look at biters. They are both shocked that someone physically hurt their child and secretly deathly afraid that their child might do it to someone else someday so they oftentimes go on a rampage. No one wants to be the mom of the child that all the other moms are whispering about behind their hands. The “biter,” the “devil child.”
My oldest never bit anyone ever. He was bit two or three times in social/school situations, but he never bit back. However, when my twins were born I was fast and furiously inducted into the biters club. The twins share a room and this can be simultaneously great and horrible at the same time. Great because they are able to comfort each other when they have bad dreams or soothe each other when they are sad, but bad because when they are fighting there is literally nowhere to go. There were a few months between ages two and three where I seriously considered moving everything out of our guest room and separating them for good. Of my twins, D, is built like a wrestler and oftentimes attempted to WWF style stomp his taller, but much scrawnier brother. When R would get trapped underneath D he would retaliate by biting. Then D would bite him back while still on top of him. It was a never ending cycle. No matter how fast I ran once I heard a kerfuffle — nor the fact that we actually have a video monitor in their room — I couldn’t prevent these altercations. There is no human fast enough on this planet. I also lived in constant fear that they would do it to someone else at a playdate, school or even church.
Now that period is behind me and I have been able to reflect on some of the reasons behind the behavior. My oldest was so verbal even at two that he could go on and on about how everything made him feel. “It hurts my feelings that you made me chicken for dinner. It isn’t my favorite. Tofu makes me happy. Please make tofu.” My twins were the opposite. R would often dissolve into tears or throw tantrums over small things. D would pout, whine and cry about things like sharing or disagreements with his brothers. They are just now at three starting to verbalize their feelings. Once they were able to verbalize that they were angry and relate exactly why, the biting stopped completely.
Toddlers bite out of frustration when they are unable to communicate or express how they feel. They really want to be able to express themselves in a way that you and others are able to understand, but that is not always possible. Biting in most children is just a phase and part of their normal development, not an indication of any social/emotional conditions or parenting mistakes. We as parents need to recognize this and cut not only ourselves a break, but other parents as well. I am in no way saying that we should ignore this behavior, just that we should work on empathizing with other parents who are struggling with kids in this stage.
If you are currently struggling with this stage, here are a few methods that worked best for me:
Talk with the child about how sad it made the other child feel, and how much it hurt their body. Show them the mark. Then ask them how they would feel if someone did it to them. Talk more with them about how we always get an adult first when we are mad and how the adult will help to solve the problem right away.
Intervention and Redirection
There are always situations that lead up to a child biting someone. Often times it is over someone else taking a toy, or someone else being aggressive towards them. If you know that a child has been struggling with biting keep a close eye on them at all times. You will see the exact moment when things start to go south. If you intervene right away and either resolve the conflict or redirect the children to something else you can avoid the biting altogether.
If your child is really struggling with biting you could try a chew necklace. It is a rubber chewable object on a necklace that you can teach them to chew on or bite when they feel really frustrated and have the urge to lash out and bite someone. You can find a myriad of different options online at stores like Amazon. It provides a healthy outlet for a child’s urges and is safe on their teeth. (Twiniversity tip — This is also a great option for kids who need that extra oral sensory input, such as kids who like to put their mouths on toys and people.)
As a mom my first reaction is always to protect my child and to go into fierce protection mode anytime anyone harms them. When dealing with a child who has bitten your child at school or daycare a myriad of factors come into play when deciding how to approach the issue, but first please remember to be kind. The parents of the biter are most likely as equally mortified as you are angry, and you also may find yourself in their shoes someday.
For more information on why biting occurs and how to help your child, check out this article.
Destiny Effertz is a stay at home mom to 3 boys under 5. Prior to having children she worked as a paralegal in a large civil litigation firm. Now she uses those research and organizational skills formulating new pie recipes and planning family vacations.