Well, I must confess I am a HUGE Modern Family fan!! This show has me laughing and crying all in the span of 30 minutes. I can relate to it every week. Sometimes I feel like they have hidden cameras in my house to get story ideas!
The clip above with Cam and Mitch panicked because Lily is biting comically highlights the fear, embarrassment, stress and confusion parents and children often feel when children bite. Grandparents, friends and the Internet all have opinions of how to stop this behaviour. What are you supposed to do?
Take a deep breath. No need to panic. Biting is a very normal toddler behaviour. I am not suggesting that it’s okay for children to bite, that you should ignore their biting, or that it is just a phase they will eventually outgrow. But with your help and patience, your child can learn to express their feelings in more acceptable ways.
Why do toddlers bite?
The first step to managing biting is to understand what might be behind the behaviour. There are a many reasons why some children bite. Here are a few common ones:
- Feeling angry, frustrated or overwhelmed
- Not having the words to express their feelings
- Feeling hungry or tired
- Experimenting and exploring
- Getting attention
The bottom line: children who bite are often trying to express a feeling or need. The challenge is to figure out what your child is actually trying to say. Seeing the world from a toddler’s perspective is not always an easy task!
Be a detective
If you are the parent or caregiver of a toddler who expresses themselves through biting, reflect on the following:
- What time of day is it?
- What location does the biting happen?
- Is it the same person?
- What is happening before they bite?
- What are the potential triggers that lead to biting?
- What do you think they are feeling?
- Is there a pattern?
Be a teacher
Helping children develop alternative ways to manage ‘strong’ emotions starts by teaching them about feelings and acceptable ways to express those feelings.
- Help your child identify their emotions.
- Talk about feelings.
- Teach your child words that describe their emotions.
- Put pictures of faces expressing emotions up on the wall. Make a game of copying the expressions and talking about what they may be seeing, feeling or thinking about.
- Read books together about biting.
- Play with your child, encourage pretend play and role play situations where your child can practise expressing their emotions.
Be a role model
Children learn how to express emotions from you. Using everyday moments to show your child positive ways in which you cope with ‘strong’ feelings is a wonderful way to teach children how to manage their own ‘strong’ feelings. I think the look on Lily’s face in the clip above says it all when her parents are wrestling with the pepper in the kitchen!
- Praise your child when they are getting along with others.
- Stay close by. Be prepared to step in and stop the biting before it happens.
- Redirect your child when you notice they might be on the verge of biting.
- Guide older preschoolers to problem solve before they bite.
- Set clear limits and simple rules: “Use your words, biting hurts”.
These are the crucial steps you can take to help your child begin expressing their feelings without biting. Later this week I will let you know how you can respond if your child bites someone else. Stay tuned!
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