How to Stop a Child from Biting
Reader Question – Stopping a Child From Biting:
I love following your blog and newsletter!
I have a problem with my little girl (she’ll be 2 in January) ‘how do you stop children biting?’
Any help welcome!! ~M
When this message arrived in the Creative with Kids inbox I really wanted to respond; biting is one of those behaviors that can be so frustrating and because it causes pain for others it can really set off our alarm bells. Anything that triggers that “danger” feeling is a good bet for triggering our “anger” feeling and habitual angry thoughts – biting children can be real button pushers for us, but biting is simply a behavior telling us about an underlying need. Once we determine that need we can help the child stop biting.
Three Steps to Help a Child Who Bites:
By Lorien VanNess, Early Childhood Contributor for Creative With Kids
Over the years I have helped a lot of kids who bite find other ways to meet their needs. It usually takes some time because there are a number of reasons toddlers and pre-schooler bite, but there is hope; you really can help children stop biting. Here are the three steps, with further explanation and ideas below.
- Think about WHEN they bite
- Look for patterns, determine WHY they bite
- Start to redirect and offer alternative solutions
Young children and toddlers bite for several reasons:
- Curiosity-to or get a reaction
- A need for sensory stimulation
- Teething discomfort
The first step I always take toward helping a child who bites is to spend some time thinking about when the biting is happening. It can be difficult to just look back and find a pattern because often we are only aware of it just as it happens or only after it happens; so, the second step is keeping a pretty watchful eye on the child both to try and prevent the biting and to try and observe when and why they are biting. Once you start to see a pattern emerge you can take the third step and start to redirect or offer alternate solutions.
Solutions to Help Stop Children Who Bite:
- Children who bite out of frustration or anger need a lot of support. This will take time. As much as possible stay near your child during activities that may cause frustration such a playing with other children and help them voice their frustrations as they arise. You might say “you really want to play with that toy, lets ask Johnny if you can play with it when he’s done” and keep providing support until the moment passes. Offer lots of praise but do not mention biting (unless to stop an eminent bite) as this often reminds them to bite.
- Children who bite out of curiosity can learn to move on when biting gets less of a reward. In these cases remain as emotionless as possible try not to make eye contact with the biter, remove the person who has been bitten and comfort them elsewhere if possible. Be quiet and low key in your comfort and try not to mention biting. If you yourself are the target do your best to contain your response and remove yourself without making eye contact (of course only leave the room if your child is in a safe environment or there is another caregiver present). Remember the idea here is to not reward the biting, it’s not about giving your child the “cold shoulder”; you only need to avoid eye contact long enough to comfort the other child or to calm your own nerves. Help the child who bites out of curiosity by teaching them some exciting games such as peek a boo or stack it up and knock it over.
- Children who need the sensory input of biting down or are having teething discomfort are perhaps the easiest to help. Collect a number of safe items to bite such as a rag with knots in it, a Multi Sensory Teether (amazon affiliate link) or toys of different textures. When biting occurs simply state calmly but emphatically “toys are for biting” hand them a teething toy and show them where they are kept so that they can get them out when they want to bite.
Though this process may seem energy intensive and will not work overnight, it has been my experience that it is well worth the time and energy. You may need to make this your priority for a time being, but by addressing the need underneath the behavior you’ll be supporting your child and helping them learn how to communicate and giving them the tools they need to succeed.
More Resources for Helping Kids Who Bite:
- Toddler Biting: Why it Happens and How You Can Stop It – from Happy Hooligans
Five Tips to Help Your Toddler Learn Language and Communicate – from Toddler Approved
Toddler Bites – from Regarding Baby
If you have experience or helpful ideas, please leave your comment for our community! To submit your own reader question you may email Alissa at: [email protected]
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Caty DiDonato Anderson
I had this issue with my daughter. It was getting pretty bad and I tried everything. I asked everyone I knew and a couple people told me it was the only time they spanked. While I did feel that there needed to be a shock factor, I wasn’t comfortable with spanking, so I tried our pediatrician, who said to get right in her face and yell, “no! No biting!” She looked at me like I broke her heart but she stopped biting almost cold turkey. Yelling is not my usual m.o. But I’m telling you we needed something extreme and it worked! Good luck.
This is what we do in preschool if it’s a repeat offender (after checking for patterns, making sure all needs are met and checking that they aren’t teething) after letting parents know this is going on. When the child bites, firmly let the child know that this behavior is not acceptable by saying, “We don’t bite! Biting hurts! Biting isn’t nice.” Explain that biting hurts the other person and makes them sad. Then remove the child from the situation and give the child time to calm down.
My daughter is 17months and i find she bites when she is getting tired. Usually she will walk up to her father or myself and bite our feet or when were cuddling or hugging she bites my shoulder or arm. We got her a new stuffed animal to cuddle when shes tired…it helped for a bit but now she is biting the stuffed animal…yes thats better than us however it still hasnt gotten rid of her bitting issues completley….any advice? Thanks…first time mom.
Wow untill you have a child who does happen to bite.then let me see how you handle it.I have twins and one was a biter I tryed everything and would not put her in daycare because of this.but some parents have no choose but to put there child in one.but dont sit there and pretty much say they are bad parents just because yours were.
My daughter was a terrible biter until she was about 2.5. She bit a few other kids in daycare, but it was mostly at home, and I took the brunt of it. I have permanent scars! It was just unbearable. At times I would be afraid to hug her because I knew she could draw blood at any minute. The doctor’s just said “she’ll grow out of it,” “wait it out,” etc. It took forever, and it was so frustrating, but she did grow out of it. In the meantime (having tried everything except for biting her back), we tried to monitor her to make sure that she had a lot of free space whenever she was highly charged. That could be from be frustrated or angry, but it could also be from just being overstimulated. That included crowded places, noise, even when we were playing and having fun. Once it seemed like she was getting to that level, we would have her take a step outside whenever possible, take some deep breaths, or run around. She was also less likely to be bite-y when she had played outside a lot or when she’d had an opportunity to do a sensory activity. We started an after school (daycare) routine of outside play and then sensory play while I made dinner. I won’t lie, though; I think ultimately she outgrew it.
Bec Smith Murray
Stephanie J Galloway
Nikki Parkes I don’t know if your still having this problem but maybe this can help? 🙂
Nicole Morkert Hashimoto
This problem is very frustrating for me, as I have personally had two very negative experiences with biters which in my opinion were not at all handled correctly. When I was 5 and my sister was 3, she chronically insisted on racing to the house from the car when we got home from my school. I quickly began to hate it, as she would throw a tantrum whether I raced her and won, or refused to race her, for which I was either spanked, put in the corner or both. Stupid parents, yes. One occasion she pressured me into the race, so I ran. She fell behind as usual, grabbed my jacket, pulled me down, laughed, claimed she was the winner, but I got up and ran to the house first anyway. She didn’t learn her lesson, she instead sunk her teeth deeply into my left forearm. She remained attached to me for what felt like several minutes as I screamed helplessly for my mom, only to be laughed at, told it wasn’t that bad, and she might come look in a minute, and why can’t I handle it myself. So, I was unfortunately forced to use force. I slapped at her head, pulled her hair, her teeth remained firmly embedded in my skin. Nobody was helping me, so in utter despair, I sunk my only weapon, my only defense, my fingernails into her stupid face until her teeth came out of my dang arm. I instantly felt better, but once that happened, I was getting spanked, scolded, and my nails cut down til they bled because I was ‘bad’. This is a true tale of really bad parents and one overindulged brat, sorry if anyone’s offended by my candor, but the facts remain. I still have scars on my arm, and don’t care if my sister has scars on her face. It’s truly not only her fault, but our so called parents as well.
The 2nd horrible incident was my then 4 year old son in his preschool, and a biter who bit him 4-5 times per day, but was not kicked out and nothing changed for months. I told the teachers he had been with for 2 years we would look for other ‘care’ where he could be safe before the biter’s parents finally got sterner warnings and started to home in on the fact that their little angel has a behavior issue that was harming others. Biting others is never acceptable, and I can’t condone this wait it and watch approach while he or she continues to victimize others at random. It’s too much to ask. This is the parent’s job to sort out if they want their kid to interact properly in public.