Question: Hi Dr. Joanette; I’m a mom of a two-and-a-half-year-old in a biting phase. When she gets upset, she bites. The other day we were on a playdate, and she bit another child hard enough to leave a bruise. Any help would be appreciated.
Answer: Hello, and I want to reassure you that there is nothing wrong with your child. Many kids go through a biting phase between the ages of 1 and 3. It is a normal development phase, and your child will outgrow it. This phase is frustrating and, at times, embarrassing for a parent, but normal.
Biting happens when your child becomes frustrated, her big feelings become too much for her to contain, and they explode out of her in the form of a bite.
The problem isn’t the frustration she is feeling in her body. The problem is that her brain isn’t developed enough to have the regulation skills to manage her feelings.
As strange as this may sound, you want her to have and experience all of her feelings. So, you can help her not be overwhelmed by the emotions and help her learn the regulation skills she needs to manage those feelings.
To do this, you will need to observe what she does just before she bite. There is usually a buildup of emotions before they explode out of our child in the form of a bite. When you notice her frustration building and before she reaches the level of a bite, move in and redirect. You may need to take her aside to let her calm down or stay close by. So if she gets ready to bite, you can quickly intervene.
What do you do when she does bite? This is an unsafe situation; you immediately take charge by picking her up and taking her aside. Tell her, “biting hurts. I won’t let you bite.” I know you were frustrated and mad that Sarah wouldn’t give you the manga tile when you asked. You can be frustrated and angry, and I won’t let you bite. I’m here, and I will help you figure out a way to let out your frustrations without biting.
Once she calms down, you can help her make amends. “Sara is sad that you bit her and crying because it hurts. Would you like to help her feel better by putting some ice on the bite?
When we stop an unsafe behavior like biting and don’t acknowledge the emotion or feeling that led to the biting, our kids may begin to see the emotion as bad because it gets them in trouble. Teaching your daughter that emotions aren’t bad helps her learn to tolerate them. If a child believes an emotion is bad, then that emotion will continue to build and build until it explodes out of them, over and over. Learning to tolerate an emotion is essential for emotional regulation.
Neuronugget: Emotions are different than feelings. Emotions are the sensations in our body, and feelings are the story we tell ourselves about the reason for those sensations.
When we tell ourselves that an emotion is bad, we keep trying to get the sensation out of us over and over.