- The bad habit of biting people
- One of the most unacceptable of aggressive behaviors
- Children usually discover biting by chance when they are about 1 year old and teething. Many children first learn to bite others by biting their parents in a playful manner. The biting will continue if the parents initially think it is cute and turn it into a game.
- Later, children may bite when they are frustrated and want something from another child. For children with limited verbal skills, biting can become a primitive form of communication. After a child is 2 or 3 years old, biting can become a deliberate way to intimidate others and get their way.
Adult Reactions to Biting
- Being attacked by a biter can be scary to a child.
- The parent of the child who has been bitten is usually very upset. They may be worried about bad infections.
- If biting happens in a child care setting, the other parents may want the biter to be expelled. If it happens in someone else’s home, the child is often told never to return.
- Adults tend to forget that some biting behavior in a group of toddlers is to be expected.
Prevention of Biting
- First, never give in to your child’s demands because of biting.
- The best time to stop biting behavior from becoming a habit is when the biting first starts.
- Be sure that no one laughs when your child bites. Avoid any “love-bites” or nipping games. Reason: Your child will not understand how they are different from painful biting.
- Make sure that child care providers understand your approach and are willing to follow it.
Clarify the Rule: “No Biting”:
- Give your child a simple reason for the rule: “Biting hurts. We do not hurt other people”.
Interrupt Biting with a Sharp “No”:
- When your child bites someone, intervene immediately. Be sure to use an unfriendly voice and look your child straight in the eye. You need to have zero tolerance for biting.
- Sometimes if he looks as if he is going to bite someone, interrupt before he actually does it. Do not wait until the victim is hurt or screaming.
- This is one behavior where punishment for intent may be needed. Close supervision of your child will be necessary until you are sure biting is no longer a risk.
Give a Time-Out When He Bites Someone:
- Send him to a boring place or corner. Require one minute per year of age in time-out.
- If time-out does not work, take away a favorite toy or all video time for the rest of the day.
- If he tries to bite you while you are holding him, say “No.” Always put him down immediately and walk away (another form of time-out).
Never Bite Your Child for Biting Someone Else:
- Biting back will make your child upset that you hurt him. It also teaches him that it is okay to bite if you are bigger.
- Also do not wash your child’s mouth out with soap.
- Never pop his cheek or slap his mouth. It won’t help and it might be reported as child abuse.
Teach Your Child Acceptable Ways to Get What He Wants:
- Tell your child that if he wants something, he should come to you and ask for help. Teach your child to ask for what he wants rather than take it.
- Teach him how to take turns. Teach him how to trade one of his toys to gain use of another child’s toy.
Praise Your Child for Not Biting:
- Before you embark on any high-risk visit with other children, remind your child gently not to bite.
- Then if he doesn’t bite, praise him afterward for being a “good friend”. Praise your child especially when he is in settings in which he used to bite.
Biting in Child Care Settings - Special Instructions:
- Biting behavior is common in child care settings. This plan can be shared with child care staff to stop the behavior in their setting.
- Provide close supervision and quickly place the biting child in time-out, even when he looks like he is going to bite someone.
- Reassure the staff that while biting must be stopped, it is not medically harmful. Reason: Bites from baby teeth rarely break the skin.
- Calling the parent at work is pointless. The problem should be dealt with immediately by the person who sees it.
Call Your Doctor If
- Biting causes a cut that breaks the skin
- Your child bites or hurts himself
- Your child has many other behavior problems
- Biting has not stopped biting after using this plan for 4 weeks
- You have other questions or concerns
Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2020 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC