Biting can be a very challenging behavior to deal with. It can result in physical and emotional distress to all individuals involved. In order to accurately address biting situations, we must determine why the individual is engaging in that behavior. In other words, we need to know the function of the biting. Like any behavior, biting has a history of reinforcement. This history plays a big role in the function of biting.
We can determine the function by analyzing what occurs immediately before the behavior (antecedent) and what occurs immediately following the behavior (consequence). Sometimes we may not be aware that our own behavior is impacting the child’s behavior. Once we are able to identify why a child is engaging in a behavior, we can change our own behavior which will lead to changes in their behavior.
There are many possible functions for the biting which can include: escape, attention seeking, gaining access to materials, or sensory stimulation. Below you will find a detail of the functions and suggestions to decrease biting given that particular function.
Functions and Working Tips for Biting:
- Escape or Avoidance: The child might behave in a way to get out of doing an unfavorable task/activity or to remove themselves from a particular situation. The child might engage in biting in order to avoid doing something they do not want to do.
- Working Tip: If you ask a child to follow your instruction, but they engage in refusal behavior and biting occurs, it is important that you continue to present the request for the child and follow through with your instruction. By not allowing the child to escape the demand, biting is no longer resulting in an inappropriate escape of demands.
- Attention seeking: The child might bite as a way to gain the attention of others. When a child bites you or themselves it is natural to react in a certain way. You may raise your voice, make different facial reactions or pull away quickly. By providing this attention after biting occurs, the child may be more likely to repeat this behavior in the future to gain your attention.
- Working Tip: If a child is biting to gain your attention, ignore this behavior by providing no facial or vocal reactions. Instead, provide attention for appropriate behaviors during periods of time when no biting is occurring. If the child is engaging in self-injurious biting behavior, you can block the behavior without giving additional attention to the child to ensure safety.
- Access to materials: The child might bite to gain access to preferred items or activities. If you are giving a child something they want after they bite you, you are likely reinforcing this behavior.
- Working Tip: It is important to refrain from giving the child access to any preferred items or activities when this behavior occurs. Instead, provide access to these after they engage in other appropriate behaviors (i.e. asking appropriately, handing you the appropriate picture exchange card, etc) to tell you what they want.
- Automatic (sensory stimulation): The child may be biting because it is something that feels good to them.
- Working Tip: To address this behavior you can give the child something more appropriate that they are allowed to bite on like a rubber chewing item.
Things to Remember When it Comes to Biting:
- Consistency is key: Once a function of the behavior is determined, it is important that everyone who interacts with the child addresses the behavior in the same way in order for the intervention to be effective. As long as the biting behavior is working for the child to get what they want, even if only on some occasions, they will continue to engage in this behavior.
- Reinforcement: Reducing/eliminating the biting behavior is important, but at we also want to teach children appropriate behaviors to replace biting to ensure they are getting their wants and needs met. By applying the principles of behavior, you can teach your child more appropriate ways to gain attention, access to preferred materials, or to ask for a break from a non-preferred activity.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!