|Biting is very common among groups of young
children, for all types of reasons. But whatever the reason for
biting, most parents find it shocking and disturbing, and they
want it to stop - quickly! Understanding why the young child
bites is the first step in preventing biting as well as teaching
the child alternatives to biting.
Most common reasons and solutions for biting
The Experimental Biter: It is not uncommon for an infant or
toddler to explore their world, including people, by biting.
Infants and toddlers place many items in their mouths to learn
more about them. Teach the child that some things can be bitten,
like toys and food, and some things cannot be bitten, like people
and animals. Another example of the Experimental Biter is the
toddler who wants to learn about cause and effect. This child is
wondering, 'What will happen when I bite my friend or Mommy?'
Provide this child with many other opportunities to learn about
cause and effect, with toys and activities.
The Teething Biter: Infants and toddlers experience a lot
of discomfort when they're teething. A natural response is to
apply pressure to their gums by biting on things. It is not
unusual for a teething child to bear down on a person's shoulder
or breast to relieve some of their teething pain. Provide
appropriate items for the child to teeth on, like frozen bagels,
teething biscuits, or teething rings.
The Social Biter: Many times an infant or toddler bites
when they are trying to interact with another child. These young
children have not yet developed the social skills to indicate 'Hi,
I want to play with you.' So sometimes they approach a friend with
a bite to say hello. Watch young children very closely to assist
them in positive interactions with their friends.
The Frustrated Biter: Young children are often confronted
with situations that are frustrating, like when a friend takes
their toy or when daddy is unable to respond to their needs as
quickly as they would like. These toddlers lack the social and
emotional skills to cope with their feelings in an acceptable way.
They also lack the language skills to communicate their feelings.
At these times, it is not unusual for a toddler to attempt to deal
with the frustration by biting whoever is nearby. Notice when a
child is struggling with frustration and be ready to intervene. It
is also important to provide words for the child, to help him
learn how to express his feelings, like "That's mine!"
or "No! Don't push me!"
The Threatened Biter: When some young children feel a sense
of danger they respond by biting as a self-defense. For some
children biting is a way to try to gain a sense of control over
their lives, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed by their
environment or events in their lives. Provide the toddler with
nurturing support, to help him understand that he and his
possessions are safe.
The Imitative Biter: Imitation is one of the many ways
young children learn. So it is not unusual for a child to observe
a friend bite, then try it out for herself. Offer the child many
examples of loving, kind behavior. Never bite a child to
demonstrate how it feels to be bitten.
The Attention-Seeking Biter: Children love attention,
especially from adults. When parents give lots of attention for
negative behavior, such as biting, children learn that biting is a
good way to get attention. Provide lots of positive attention for
young children each day. It is also important to minimize the
negative attention to behaviors such as biting.
The Power Biter: Toddlers have a strong need for
independence and control. Very often the response children get
from biting helps to satisfy this need. Provide many opportunities
for the toddler to make simple choices throughout the day. This
will help the toddler feel the sense of control they need. It is
also important to reinforce all the toddler's attempts at positive
social behavior each day.
As with almost all potentially harmful situations involving
children, prevention is the key. Adults must be active observers
of children to prevent biting. in those times when close
supervision doesn't work, the adult must intervene as quickly and
as calmly as possible.
When intervening before the potential bite has occurred...
- Talk for the child by offering words like, "I see that
you wanted that toy!"
- Demonstrate patience and understanding for the frustration
the child is experiencing.
- Offer solutions like, "We have another red truck right
over here. Let's go get it."
- Demonstrate alternate ways of interacting and say something
like, "She likes it when you rub her arm." Try to
stay focused on the positive behavior you want to see, without
reminding the child of the negative behavior.
When your child bites...
- Comfort the child who was bitten.
- Cleanse the wound with mild soap and water. Provide an ice
pack to reduce pain and swelling.
- Provide comfort for the wounded child by saying something
like, "That really hurt! You don't like it when your
friend bites your arm!"
- Calmly approach the child who bit. Many times these children
feel overwhelmed and afraid after they bite. They need
- Comfort the child who bit by saying something like,
"You seem sad that your friend's arm is hurt from the
- Help the child who bit to understand the hurt their friend
is feeling by offering to let her talk with her friend. Say
something like, "Would you like to see Sally now? You can
tell her that you hope she feels better soon." Older
toddlers can learn a lot from being allowed to comfort their
friend after a bite has occurred. The child who bit may want
to see the injury. That's okay if the injured child wants to
show it. But do not force either child to have this
interaction, unless both are willing.
- Reinforce the rule that we don't hurt people. Help both
children understand that your job is to keep everyone safe.
Say, "I know you are angry. But I can't let you bite
- When the environment is calm again, remind the children what
they can do to assert themselves, like say "No! That's
mine!" or "Back away!" or if they are
preverbal, teach them to 'growl like a tiger' to express
themselves. The goal is to teach assertiveness and
communication skills to both the child who bites and the child
who gets bitten.
Never hit or bite a child who has bitten. That will teach the
child that violence is OK.
Young children need lots of practice to learn the fine art of
interacting with their friends in a positive way. They need
positive guidance and support from parents. When children gain
maturity and experience, and become preschoolers (3+ years old),
they will likely have developed more appropriate ways of