The most effective way to deal with biting is to focus on the reasons for the biting and respond appropriately. It can help to avoid overstimulation, stick to routines, and plan ahead for high energy situations.
There are lot of reasons why tamariki bite
Younger tamariki may be teething. Older tamariki may be bored, frustrated, or having trouble communicating their emotions. They may also do it to get attention.
Dealing with this behaviour will be more effective and less stressful for everyone if whānau focus on why their tamaiti is biting so they can respond appropriately, and step in and prevent it where possible.
Biting can be distressing to deal with, but whānau should know that as self-regulation and language skills develop, this behaviour tends to decrease, and usually stops altogether around age 4.
Hitting and biting in disabled tamariki has different causes. Punishing this behaviour often won’t work as their brains have developed differently. It’s important to stay calm, listen, and let them express their feelings in a safe space.
What to do when it happens
Whānau must remain calm and first pay attention to the person who has been bitten. Then make it clear that biting isn’t acceptable and explain why. For example, biting hurts and it’s not fun! Toddlers may not realise they’ve caused the other person pain. They might get upset and need comforting as well.
If the tamaiti who has bitten another person needs to calm down, it might be helpful to remove them from the play area, but try to focus on creating a safe space to calm down rather than on punishment. The whole whānau can join in to reinforce this "chill" time as a positive way to deal with big emotions.
Support the tamaiti to calm down in the ways you know help:
- Some tamariki need physical activity.
- Singing or dancing can support emotional regulation.
- Playing a game can help refocus attention and energy.
Some tamariki are best supported with something safe to bite and chew on. This is particularly effective for tamariki who may bite out of boredom or as part of self-stimulatory behaviour (stimming) associated with autistic tamariki. Having a snack or blowing bubbles is also an effective way to redirect biting to a safer activity.
Find out why
Once things have calmed down, whānau should try and find out why their tamaiti is biting. Often it's associated with how they are feeling, and they may need help with the words to convey this instead of behaviour like biting.
Calmly talk about the emotions they may be feeling when they bite, such as frustration, excitement, or anger. If tamariki can say how they're feeling this supports them to manage their big emotions.
Watch for the signs of these emotions and when biting is possible, say "you seem really excited to see your cousin, remember to be gentle". This supports how they're feeling and reminds them of how to manage.
Distracting tamaiti as whānau see their frustration, excitement, or anger escalating is also useful.
Where possible, they should try and avoid situations where their tamaiti may become over stimulated. This is particularly important for tamariki with autism, where sensory overload is common.
It can help to plan ahead for situations that might be high energy. Explain to your tamaiti what they can expect, stick to routines as much as possible, and take along toys or plan activities for when things get too much for them. A visual schedule showing what’s coming next can be helpful to refer to.