The act of biting another is often seen as aggressive or violent behavior, but is rarely ill-intentioned when inflicted by an infant or toddler. Infants and toddlers do not possess the self-control and expression to communicate their feelings or responses, therefore they often bite. Children may begin biting at a very young age and continue throughout toddlerhood. Typically normal biting behavior subsides by age three, but while it exists it can be challenging and worrisome.
Some reasons infants and toddlers bite:
To relieve pain from teething
To satisfy oral-motor needs
To gain control in a situation
As a means of expression or communication
To explore cause and effect
To gain a reaction from the person being bitten
To communicate hunger or fatigue
To imitate others
Infants may bite because they are exploring the world around them and are using all five senses to learn about things. An infant may bite a caregiver’s shoulder as a simple test to see what may occur. If this happens, it is important to stay calm and not overreact to the situation.
Toddlers often bite as a result of very strong feelings that they are learning to work through. Often fear, frustration, anger, or sadness can cause a toddler to bite somebody. A toddler may bite a playmate who takes a favorite toy without warning. He or she may also bite without any obvious reasons. This can also be due to poor impulse control or a simple experiment.
Biting usually subsides by preschool age, but it is not uncommon for a preschooler who is experiencing stress or extreme anger to bite their caregiver or peers. If a preschooler is biting it may be as an act of self-defense or out of extreme emotions.
It is important to note that biting behavior is usually NOT the fault of the parents or caregivers. We will explore some things that caregivers can do to cope with biting.
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