Springdale Mason Pediatrics

Biting

Definition

  • The bad habit of biting people
  • One of the most unacceptable of aggressive behaviors

Call or Return 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

 

About This Topic

Causes

  • 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.

After Care Advice

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.

Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2020 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC
Disclaimer: This health information is for educational purposes only. You the reader assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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