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By Dr. Heather
My two youngest kids were having fun together in the playroom, so I started the dishes. All of a sudden, my 4-year-old screamed in shock and pain, “Mom! Sasha bit me!” And sure enough, she had. Our otherwise adorable 14-month-old left bite marks, and she and her brother were crying. So much for the dishes.
My first three kids weren’t biters. I smugly — and prematurely — congratulated myself on dodging that particular bullet. But our fourth child is determined to make her feelings known to the rest of us — and biting is her chosen way of doing so.
As a parent, I’m mortified. But as a child psychologist, I know that biting is common among toddlers and preschoolers. And there’s some rhyme and reason to it. Although bites seem to happen out of nowhere, there are usually warning signs that one is coming. Triggers include frustration, overstimulation, exhaustion and hunger. Even strong positive feelings can trigger a bite. Parents say, “I love you so much I could just eat you up!” Children feel the same way — it’s just that they actually try it. Younger toddlers can bite when they’re teething or just feel like chewing on something (or someone).
Even well-adjusted kids can bite. Parents worry about the implications of having a child who bites. But your little biter isn’t a budding sociopath. He or she just doesn’t have better ways of expression yet. As a child’s speech develops, you can help him or her use words instead of teeth. This should be your mantra: MORE WORDS = LESS BITING.
Here are some tips to help you get there:
Keep in mind that this is usually a fairly short phase and that taking it all in stride helps. Until then, I’ll be on “Bite Patrol,” waiting for Sasha to learn to use her words and not her teeth.