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Why Do Children Bite?

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian is a real estate investor, MBA, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

It's not uncommon for young children to bite other children and adults. Let's take a look at the reasons why children in different age groups may bite someone.

Childhood Biting

Stella works in a daycare with children ranging from six months old all the way up to kindergartners. The other day, she was bitten by a two year-old boy and was completely shocked without any idea of why a kid would do that. This was the first time she had ever been bitten, but the preschool director, Sally, was able to step in and correct the child. She took some time afterward to explain a little bit about how biting is a common occurrence in a child's normal development. Because of the range of ages among the children, Sally proceeds to inform Stella of why children at different developmental stages bite.

Infants

Infants, babies under one year old, explore things with their mouth since it is one of the most developed parts of their body. They do not have the empathy to understand that biting causes someone else pain. In an infant's mind, since biting doesn't cause him pain, it doesn't hurt another person. The biting isn't done out of malice. It could also be an attempt to cope with teething pain. A baby may learn that biting is a quick and immediate way to get someone's attention, but he isn't trying to hurt someone. Sally's advice to Stella is to address the baby's needs such as feeding or a diaper change, and that should reduce the chances of being bitten.

Toddlers

Stella generally works with the toddler-aged children who are between 12 and 36 months in age. At this age, biting is developmentally normal, but children can begin to be trained out of the behavior. As an infant becomes a toddler, he is better able to communicate with others, but it can be very frustrating to the toddler when he cannot figure out how to express himself. Some children may bite in this situation out of frustration. Toddlers may realize that biting is a quick way to get attention like an infant, but may also be imitating other children or experiencing other kinds of stress like a change in routine. One study from 1994 even suggests that toddlers are more likely to bite if they haven't been in contact with adults for more than the most recent five minutes.

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