A common question we get from parents is how do I stop my kid from biting? Biting is a such a tough one to navigate. Often times our first thought as parents is to discipline a child who bites. If they are old enough, we explain biting hurts others and it is not ok. But often times, the child is not biting out of anger and they might not even have self control over their biting.
Frequent biting and mouthing objects, can be a sensory seeking behavior and can indicate a child needs more proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive input is received through deep pressure, often in through joints such as knees, hips, shoulders and…the jaw! This deep pressure helps the brain to release the chemical serotonin which helps to regulate and calm the sensory system.
So how do we keep a child from inappropriate biting? We feed their proprioceptive system with appropriate stimulation frequently enough that they don’t need to bite at inappropriate times.
Think of it like hunger. If we feed ourselves enough food throughout the day, we can avoid getting to that point of “hangry” where we have a short fuse and are eating everything we can get our hands on. The same is true of our sensory systems. If we can fulfill our child’s proprioceptive needs frequently and often enough throughout the day, they will never get to that point of “starving” for proprioceptive input and need to bite everything in sight. A good aim to stay ahead of biting is to get some form of proprioceptive input in every 60-90 minutes.
So, what are some appropriate ways we can feed our children’s proprioceptive input into their jaw? Redirect chewing to appropriate objects such as gum, chew toys, chew necklaces, chew pencil toppers, or chewy foods (many of our favorites are linked at the bottom of the post. Crunchy foods such as apples and carrots will also put that pressure they need on the jaw. Another way to stimulate that transmandibular joint (aka the jaw) is through sucking thick liquid (like a smoothie or milkshake) through a straw. Popsicles also work really well as a form of appropriate oral stimulation and they add the sensation of cold into the joint as well.
And finally, vibration. Vibration is such a great therapeutic tool that could be an entire post in itself. I love using a vibrating toothbrush or vibrating chew toy for my sensory seekers. But, with vibration, we need to make sure it is child led and presented very gently because it can be a scary thing and can take some time to warm up to. Let them explore the vibration at their pace and determine for themselves when it starts and ends.
As with all types of sensory related behaviors, trial and error should be expected. What works one day may not work the next which is why it is good to have lots of tools in your bag of tricks to pull out when your kiddo needs help regulating. Also, remember that sensory regulation works best when used prior to the point of disregulation and the behavior taking place. If your child is struggling with biting, try to incorporate different forms of proprioceptive input all throughout the day. This post focused just on proprioceptive input through the jaw which is great for biters but they can also benefit from proprioceptive input through any joints, muscles, or connective tissues! Feel free to post any questions or comments you have in the comments below and we would be happy to help!
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