|Parents And Guardians - Are You Aware Articles
Niki Smidt

May 10, 2004

You turn around to pick up a few stray toys - and it happens. Erin lets out a piercing scream. You rush over and there's the tell-tale sign - red teeth marks on Erin's arm. Biting is one of the most difficult behaviors to deal with in young children. Biting is very similar to hitting, but it is much more dangerous. Young children have more power in their jaw muscles than in their arms, so the damage is more severe. And it can happen in an instant, even when you are standing right there!

Biting is quite common among toddlers and is a very normal reaction for this age group. Children bite for many reasons. Sometimes they are teething and the biting feels good. Others seem to enjoy the strong reaction they get. Sometimes it starts out as a kiss and just goes too far. Most of the time, though, biting occurs because a child is frustrated and does not know what else to do. For example, the activity may be too difficult for the child. Or there may be too many children for the child to deal with. Or the child may be angry because someone tried to take a toy away. Because the child has not yet learned appropriate words or actions to express his frustration, he resorts to biting.

There are many things you can do to eliminate the biting.

Change the Situation

  • Provide easier toys and activities for the child.
  • Provide more toys so there is less fighting over the toys. Buy more than one of popular toys so very young children will not have to wait long to play with them.
  • Decrease the number of children the child plays near.
  • Shorten the playtime, or watch more carefully to see when the child starts to "lose it."

Teach Acceptable Alternatives to Biting

  • Teach the child to say "no" if another child is doing something he doesn't like.
  • Substitute a teething ring if the child looks like she is about to bite another child.

Provide Close Supervision

  • Stay very close to the child to monitor things, especially in situations where you think biting is likely to occur.
  • If the child does bite, immediately remove the child from the others. (Do this after you have checked to see that the child who was bitten is okay!) Briefly explain that biting hurts others and will not be allowed. If you consistently remove the child when he bites, he will learn that he must stop biting if he wants to play with others.

Praise Children For Appropriate Behavior

  • Compliment the child when he is playing well with others. This will help the child realize that you value this kind of behavior. It will also help build the child's self-esteem.

It is also important to talk with parents. Talk to the parents of the child who is biting and the parents of the other children in your care. Assure the parents that biting, although it is serious and not to be tolerated is quite normal in very young children. Explain why biting occurs and the techniques you are using to help the child overcome the problem. This shows the parents that you are knowledgeable about children and on top of the situation. Dealing with a child who bites can be challenging, but your efforts will help the child take one more step toward independence and self-control.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care (NNCC). Todd, C.M. (1992). When children bite. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 1(6), pp. 3-4 Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

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