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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
Why Kids Bite Other Kids.....and How to Stop It!
See also: Biting Must Never be Permitted and How to stop biting in day care
Biting another child is one of the more unacceptable, aggressive behaviors
in our society. The parent of the child who has been bitten is usually upset
and worried about the risk of infection. If biting happens in a day 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
Children usually discover biting by chance when they are about 1 year
old and teething. Most children first learn to bite by biting their parents
in a playful manner. It is important to try to interrupt this primitive behavior
at this early stage. The biting often continues because the parents initially
think it is cute and the child considers it a game to get attention.
Later, children may bite when they are frustrated and want something
from another child. At an age when children have minimal verbal skills, biting
becomes a primitive form of communication. Only after a child is 2 or 3 years
old does biting become a deliberate way to express anger and intimidate
Establish a rule: "We never bite people."
Give your child a reason for the rule, namely that biting
Other reasons (that won't interest a young child) are that bites
can lead to infection or scarring.
Suggest a safe alternative behavior.
Tell your child that if he wants something he should come to you
and ask for help or point to it. He should not bite the person who has it.
If your child bites when he is angry, tell him, "If you are mad, come to
me and tell me before you bite anyone."
If your child is at the chewing age (usually less than 18 months),
help him choose a toy that he can bite rather than tell him that he cannot
bite anything. A firm toy or teething ring will do. Encourage him to carry
his "chewy" with him for a few days.
Interrupt biting with a sharp "No."
Be sure to use an unfriendly voice and look your child straight in
the eye. Try to interrupt her when she looks as if she might bite someone
before she actually does it. Especially close supervision of your child may
be necessary until you are sure he/she will no longer bite people.
Give your child a time-out when he/she bites people.
Send him/her to a boring place for approximately one minute per year
If he/she tries to bite you while you are holding him/her, say "No." Always
put him/her down immediately and walk away (a form of time-out). If time-out
does not work, take away a favorite toy for the rest of the day.
Never bite your child for biting someone else.
Biting back will make your child upset that you hurt him/her and may
teach him/her that it is okay to bite if you're bigger. Also, do not wash your
child's mouth out with soap, pinch or pop his/her cheek, or slap his/her mouth. In
fact, if your child tends to be aggressive, avoid physical punishment in
general (for example, spanking).
Also eliminate "love-bites" because your child will not understand
how they are different from painful biting.
Praise your child for not biting.
Praise your child especially when he/she is in situations in which he
used to bite or when he is with children whom he/she used to bite. Remind your
child gently not to bite before you embark on a high-risk visit. Then
if he/she doesn't bite, praise him afterward for good behavior.
Biting in child care settings.
Biting behavior is common in child care settings. The preceding approach
should be used by day care staff to eliminate the behavior in their setting.
Provide careful supervision and quickly place the biting child in time-out,
even when he/she acts like he/she might bite someone. In general biting is harmless
since most bites by younger children don't puncture the skin. Calling the
parent at work is pointless since the problem should be dealt with immediately
by whomever witnesses it.
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
and that no one, including older siblings, treats biting as a game. Also
never give in to your child's demands because of biting. Make sure that day
care providers understand your approach and are willing to follow it.
Call Your Child's Pediatrician Immediately If:
Biting causes a puncture or a cut that completely breaks the
Call Your Child's Pediatrician During Office Hours If:
Biting behavior lasts for more than four weeks after you have begun using
the approach outlined here.
Your child bites or hurts himself/herself.
Your child has several other behavioral problems.
You have other questions or concerns.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
Please read our full disclaimer.