Understand Your Child’s Behaviour: Biting, Hair-Pulling & Pinching

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It is very common for young children to bite, pinch, and pull hair as they experiment and explore their environment – it does not mean your child is naughty or aggressive. However, if disregarded or mishandled, this type of behaviour could turn into a persistent habit as your child grows older.

It is especially important to look into this issue if your child is in an early childcare centre, where they are playing and interacting with their peers every day. As parents, you play a huge role in ensuring your child’s experimentative behaviour does not get out of control and that they can mix around safely with other children in the centre.

The best way of putting a stop to this type of behaviour early on is to accept that it is a part of your child’s development and try to understand the reason behind their behaviour. Read on to find out why your child reacts the way they do and how you can help them overcome it.

Why do young children bite?

Biting is completely normal, especially among children aged between one and three. It is common to see babies put things into their mouths because that is how they explore the world – through senses such as taste, smell, sight, and touch. It is also how babies communicate what they want, usually to indicate that they are hungry.

As your child grows, the biting phase will gradually reduce or even disappear completely. This happens as your child discovers other ways to interact with their environment. Young children above the age of three will usually start developing speech as well as social and emotional skills which will allow them to communicate their needs and wants verbally without resorting to physical aggression.

However, oftentimes, this behaviour persists in babies until they become young toddlers or older. This is when it may become concerning for you as parents, especially when your child is enrolled in an early learning childcare centre where they may bite and hurt other children. The best way to deal with it is to understand the reason behind their behaviour and then address it accordingly.

Young children usually bite when they are feeling frustrated, angry, or upset. This is usually because they do not have the words or do not know the proper non-verbal way to communicate and express their wants or feelings effectively. They may also bite because they want attention. Since they do not know how to communicate properly, they resort to seeking attention by biting.

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Not to forget, young children bite because they may be teething. It is scary and painful when something hard and foreign is trying to protrude out of your gums. Hence, it is a normal reaction for young children to chew on something to soothe their sore gums while they are going through this phase.

How can you put a stop to the biting?

Your reaction as parents to handling this situation is very crucial as it can influence your child’s behaviour in the future. Little ones learn through “cause and effect” – they may experiment to watch your reaction to it. If you laugh when your child bites, they may think it is something fun so they will do it again. Likewise, if you react angrily, your extreme reaction may intrigue them and your child may bite again just to watch you react the same way once more.

Hence, it is important to stay calm and handle the behaviour constructively. Say “No” clearly and gently remove your child’s mouth and turn away from them. This distracts them from their behaviour. When your child shows positive behaviour, respond with lots of attention and praise so they notice the contrast in reactions.

On the other hand, if your baby is biting because they are teething, provide them with an appropriate teething aid and whatever that helps them relax to help them get through this uncomfortable phase. Meanwhile, if you think your child is acting out due to a lack of attention, make sure to spend more one-on-one time with them and ensure they are getting all the attention they need.

When it comes to toddlers, you can use a similar approach – clearly and calmly tell them their behaviour is not acceptable and then slowly redirect their attention to another activity. As with babies, you need to be consistent and your toddler will soon learn that biting is not right. If the biting is a result of impulsion, again, be patient and redirect your child to activities that can help them develop a little more self-control.

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However, if this behaviour is because of your child’s peers, you should look at the situation and separate the children in the first instance. Inform your child’s early childcare centre educator and ask them to monitor the children’s behaviour in the centre. You can also ask them for advice on what activities or exercises you can do at home to help prevent your child’s biting behaviour from escalating.

Why do young children pinch and pull hair?

Your child may pinch or pull hair for similar reasons as to why they bite. The most apparent is their lack of communication skills. Young children do not know how to express extreme emotions such as frustration or anger, which can come about for a range of reasons – anything from a change in routine, illness, or being separated from their primary caregiver. Hence, they resort to reacting physically.

Babies tend to tug hair as they develop confidence and practice how to use their hands. As for toddlers, they react this way to seek attention or when they feel overwhelmed by their surroundings. The latter is quite common in an early childcare centre as your young children are in an unfamiliar environment with a group of peers who are also struggling with processing new information, sensation, and emotions – it can get a bit too much for them to handle.

No matter the reason, it is best to address this behaviour and put a stop to it early on so that your child will not grow up thinking it is acceptable to behave that way. If this pinching and hair-pulling behaviour goes unheeded, your child can cause serious injury to someone.

What can you do to stop the pinching and hair-pulling?

Identifying the trigger is often the most effective approach to assisting young children to learn alternative means of response. Look out for early signs of frustration so you can prevent the aggressive behaviour from happening – these signs will be unique to your child, so it is important to understand and know your child. However, you can also take note of some common traits such as agitation, fussiness, or making irritable sounds.

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The best thing to do after a “bad behaviour” incident is to help your child move on and relax. Create a safe space for your child by setting up an area where your child can calm down and rethink their behaviour. Ensure the space has calming resources like bean bags, books, or their favourite toys to help them wind down.

It is very important for you to remain calm and guide them patiently. You may be frustrated and angry by their behaviour, but your young child will not learn or change if you do not model good behaviour yourself. Take deep breaths, and speak to your child in a low calm voice. Depending on their age, talking calmly helps them open up to you. You can make use of this opportunity to try and understand why they reacted that way in the first place. Once you find out the reason, you can gently advise them accordingly.

If your child tells you that they acted that way out of self-defence or because they saw their peers in their early childcare centre do it, let your child’s educator know of the problem and ask them to keep an eye out for such incidents. If possible, ask them what you can do at home to put a stop to your child’s pinching and hair-pulling behaviour.

Take time to understand your child, be patient, and try again!

It’s normal to feel embarrassed or even angry if your child hurts you or someone else by biting, pinching or hair-pulling – but how you react to your child’s behaviour now can influence their behaviour in the future. It is important to understand your child and connect with them deeply before you attempt to correct their behaviour. However, if your child is old enough to communicate effectively and they still exhibit these aggressive behaviours, you should consider seeking out professional help.

It is not going to be easy, but with these pointers and a whole load of patience, you can definitely help your child overcome their aggressive behaviour peacefully. Additionally, look for quality early learning childcare centres with experienced educators who can create a safe space for your child and help them quash these behaviours.