Biting is expected behavior for infants and toddlers, but as natural as it is, it’s unpleasant for those who are bitten.
When we see our child biting someone else, the instinct might be to rush over, scold them, and quickly move on. However, understanding all the factors involved in a child with biting tendencies is the best way to help them through this stage of their development.
In this piece about biting prevention, we’ll cover:
- Why is my child biting others?
- Is biting more common in children with autism?
- Reasons for aggressive behavior in children
- How to understand a child who is biting others?
- Responding to children who bite
- Ways to prevent a child from biting
Why is My Child Biting Others?
Children bite themselves and other humans for several reasons you may be less inclined to consider.
Most of them are not violent or intentionally hurtful at all, including:
If your child is experiencing pain in their teeth and gums, they might be biting to try and relieve it. This is one of the most common reasons for babies and toddlers with biting tendencies.
Babies, toddlers, and young children are constantly exploring their surroundings. Using their teeth to feel objects may seem normal until their other motor and sensory skills have developed.
Looking for a Reaction
Another reason your child is biting people is to experiment with how other people react. Biting their peers or family members is a way to feel like they are taking charge of their surroundings. This is why immediate and clear communication about how biting others isn’t appropriate is vital feedback in moments like this, or else they’ll take a lack of feedback as a green light for their behavior.
When young children cannot cope with a situation, they might bite out of frustration. This can be especially common for children with autism as they are experiencing sensory, social, and developmental issues that might be undiagnosed.
Is Biting More Common in Children with Autism?
Research has shown that children with autism may experience more ‘aggressive’ behaviors towards their peers, parents, or caregivers. This may be due to sensory issues, frustration, or poor self-regulation. It is important to address the aggressive behavior as a standalone issue, and part of assessing includes identifying any potential environmental agitators or common stressors in your child’s life.
Reasons for Aggressive Behavior in Children with Autism
In addition to the early childhood reasons for biting, coinciding factors may prompt your child with autism to bite other children.
These may include:
- Change in routine
- Self-injurious tendencies
- Lack of sleep
- Overstimulation or jarring sensory stimuli
- Undiagnosed mental health issues
- Introduction to new environments
Many of these potential reasons for aggression are expressed as biting or lashing out due to frustration. Because young children with autism often have trouble understanding what’s happening around them or communicating their wants and needs, it can manifest in simple behaviors such as biting someone else.
How to Understand a Child Who is Biting Others
We know that most times, our children are not being aggressive and biting people because they are mean or malicious. They can be doing this because they are scared, frustrated, or curious. This means we shouldn’t be punishing them for what often is a form of communication rather than intended as an attack.
Understanding and having empathy for why a child might bite someone doesn’t mean the behavior should be accepted or ignored.
However, when working with our children and trained professionals to curb these behaviors, we should focus on fixing stressors rather than simply addressing their actions.
Responding to A Child Who Bites
Because our response to a child biting other children should be corrective and not punitive, we must be careful with the techniques and messages used.
Here are five ways to respond to your child biting someone else:
- Remain Calm
Given our understanding of why children bite others, we must remain calm and keep the situation from becoming a distraction. Separate your child and the other person, be firm, and use direct language that clarifies that biting another person is not okay.
- Separate Both Parties
A child may bite a sibling, peer, teacher, or stranger. Regardless of who, the most important action to take first is removing the child from the situation for safety rather than as a punishment.
There is a chance that the person or situation your child was in could be a trigger to them, so separating the parties from each other can diffuse the situation and calm your child significantly.
- Pay Attention to Triggers
Because children with autism often face additional stressors or agitators due to their environment, it is important to look for clues that might have prompted a biting incident.
- Record Data of Biting
Tracking behaviors and how they are produced is important for an ABA approach to autism. If you can detail how, when, and why biting might happen, it will help create a specific plan for preventing your child from biting in the future.
- Resolve the Situation Firmly
Do not blame or chastise your child, but tell them that biting is socially unacceptable. Make sure to reinforce positive outcomes such as your child calming down or switching to another acceptable activity. Ultimately, we need to provide examples of healthy behaviors so that our children know what to model in the future.
Biting is a complex behavior that can stem from sensory challenges, communication issues, or something unrelated to autism. Our goal is to establish consistent ways to resolve, prevent, and avoid biting tendencies in our children.
Ways to Prevent a Child From Biting
If you notice that your toddler or child is biting you or others, you must take action as soon as possible.
5 Tips for Stopping Children from Biting:
- Distract Your Child with Other Activities
The more we identify common issues (such as miscommunication or a specific environment) that might trigger a biting incident, the easier we can divert them.
Offering a snack or a playtime activity are ways you may prevent a biting incident from occurring.
- Explain Why Biting is Not OK
Giving an example of how biting makes you or another person upset might work. Or, if your child recognizes personal space, explain how biting is an invasion of that.
- Help Your Child Move Forward
Often, a child will bite because they are upset, uncomfortable, or confused. These moments are not positive for your child, so it can become a teaching moment to help them overcome whatever stressors are challenging them at that moment.
If your child is biting as a form of communication or is doing it to express anger, it can help to have them practice expressing themselves more appropriately. Whether speaking, writing, or using other established means within your ABA framework, try to engage with them in a discussion about why they are biting others.
- Reinforce Positive Behaviors that Prevent Biting
Whether snacking, talking, or playing, ensure the successes are documented and appropriately reinforced. With behaviors such as biting that have clear boundaries about what is and isn’t okay, we need to provide feedback as often as possible.
Your child will have unique responses to their peers, environments, and personal needs. Using these methods to respond to biting will help more often than not and provide a strong baseline for further behavioral change in an ABA therapy framework.
Get Help For Your Child Who is Biting
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, we know the struggles with biting tendencies and how you want the best support for your child with autism. Our team of licensed ABA therapists can provide you with the support you need to help your child grow through this challenging moment.
If you want to learn more about how ABA practices can help your child overcome biting their peers while encouraging healthy habits, please contact us today.