Why do toddlers bite?
A dad came into the center yesterday and reported that his one-and-a-half year-old climbs on him and bites him for no reason at all. One of the other teachers asked the dad how he responded. The dad shrugged and replied, “Well, that's just what they do.” Why do toddlers bite? Is it because they don’t have the language yet to communicate? Why do some toddlers bite?
As a baby matures, she starts to understand herself as being separate from the caring adults around her. Her explorations, accomplishments, and frustrations in her attempts to fulfill her basic needs start to make the leap to more self-directed actions. Because so much of a baby’s early learning relies on oral activities (feeding, cooing, mouthing toys) and motor activities (sitting, crawling, walking), her first independent actions will also emerge from these behaviors. Running from dad and looking back laughing is an example of this. Unfortunately, so is biting. Particularly with young toddlers, a cozy snuggle can come to an abrupt end with a bite on Dad’s shoulder. She’s testing “what happens when…”
The dad at your center is right: most biting toddlers bite not with emotional intent but because they’re exploring. In these cases, simple words can help (“No bite. Hurts.”) Other times, toddlers are teething and need a better solution to relieve discomfort. Some toddlers don’t bite at all: they’re most likely using other means of oral exploration and discovery. Older toddlers, on the other hand, may bite with emotional intent, particularly when they don’t have other strategies for expressing tension or frustration. As you suggest, they bite because their ability to use language hasn’t yet caught up with their emotional and cognitive development.
It’s complicated to be a toddler, and to be a caring adult of a toddler. Good for you for looking at the situation from both perspectives.