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Biting is common, but painful problem for kids
By Michaela Parker
MSU Extension Service
STARKVILLE, MISS. -- Toddlers who like to bite are a common source of concern for parents, but moms and dads can help their children manage this behavior.
Biting is a normal developmental step that begins when a child starts teething, said Karen Benson, Neshoba County coordinator for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Children can begin teething as early as 4 months, she said. When children are teething, biting down on objects feels good to them. Biting other people typically begins when children are 10-18 months old. However, biting is most common in toddlers 14-24 months old.
Young children do not understand there is a difference in biting a food, a toy or a person. Until they learn to speak, they do not have a way to ask for help, Benson said. They learn the difference through the reactions of the people around them.
“We have no objection when children bite into food, yet we object when children bite others,” she said. “Toddlers learn right and wrong from our social reactions.”
A parent’s first reaction to a toddler biting other people should not result in negative consequences, Benson said. Parents should avoid punishing the child for biting others because scolding could make the problem worse.
“Parents must intervene in a caring and calm manner to help the child make a better decision,” Benson said. “Parents cannot ignore the problem either. They need to be proactive instead of reactive by working closely with the child to adapt to change.”
Research shows that children stop biting when they learn how to talk. Biting can be interpreted as a child trying to express feelings of anger or jealousy. Parents should encourage their children to express their feelings through words instead of biting, Benson said.
“Reading aloud to your baby when he or she starts sitting up can help language development,” she said. “Children who bite need coping skills. Parents who teach their children to respond using words can help prevent a child from biting to express feelings as they get older.”
Jennifer Russell, an MSU Extension agent in Leflore County, said children may bite because of changes in their schedules.
“Direct change in their home environment or daily schedule can cause children to become aggressive and express their pain through biting others,” Russell said. “Many parents take for granted how much young children understand and know. They recognize if mommy or daddy is not at home, and children will sometimes act out because of those changes.”
In some situations, children bite to draw attention to themselves. Biting also occurs when children feel other children or adults have invaded their space. Parents should use stern tones of voice and strong facial expressions to show their children that biting is something they should not do, Russell said.
“Parents have to get the child’s attention without making them angry. They should talk the child through what they did because it a normal part of child development,” she said. “However, if they allow the behavior or ignore it, it tells the children that it is appropriate and acceptable to do.”
During the teething stage, parents are encouraged to show their child what they can and cannot bite, Russell said.
For more information on child development and parenting, visit http://extension.msstate.edu.