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Dear Debi,
My 3-year-old son has bitten several children in the past few months. Usually it happens when he doesnít get his way. I take him away from the child as soon as I see what has happened and let him know that biting is unacceptable. But he continues to bite. What can I do to change this?
Gustavo , Los Angeles, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Observe circumstances that trigger biting
  • Partner with parents to prevent the behavior
  • Stay calm and respond quickly
  • Never hit or bite the child back
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early childhood development specialist
Children bite for various reasons. Many of them bite because theyíre frustrated that they donít have the words yet to express themselves. In some cases, they may be trying to exert power through biting and get a reaction from other kids and adults. They may also bite if they feel threatened and want to protect themselves.

When you see a child biting, remain calm and remove everyone out of danger first. Then attend to the child who has been bitten. Many times, adults focus on the child who does the biting while the child who has just been injured is left crying and hurt, with all the attention going to the child who bit.

Then, depending on the age of the child, explain why biting is not acceptable behavior. Give children the words to explain their feelings. Make sure you validate the childís feelings. If they are frustrated, acknowledge that and say, ďItís OK to feel frustrated and angry, but when you feel that way, tell me about it.Ē Make sure they are heard so that they feel safe and accepted. Itís also a good idea to give them alternate forms of physical expression so they donít hurt others.

If you see a child who continues this behavior, itís important to try to be preventative. Observe the child to determine what type of biter he is. For example, is the biter teething? Does the child bite when he or she is frustrated or feels threatened? Or is the child a power biter who does it for control and attention? By observing the circumstances right before a child bites, you will know how to deal with the situation.

Never ever bite or hit a child for biting behavior. Many people say that this ďteachesĒ kids not to bite. It may be effective in the short term to stop them from biting, but what this actually teaches them is something totally different. When you bite kids back, it tells them aggressive behavior is the proper way to display your emotions. Remember, kids learn by seeing. So what you are showing them is that aggression is OK.

Parents and providers should work together to stop a child from biting. Children need to get the same messages at home and in the child care so that they learn from the consistency of how adults deal with the biting behavior. Parents and providers should discuss what behavior is acceptable and what the policy is when a child bites, so that everyone knows what to expect and how to handle the situation if it occurs. Remember to keep the dialogue open with no judgment between you and the parents.
Child Care provider Comments
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
Once I identify a child who continues to bite, I try to be preventative by watching him to discover the trigger that causes him to bite. I also talk with the parents so that an effort is made by everyone in the childís life to help him stop the behavior.
Diane Ferguson
Diane Ferguson
Child care provider for 3 years
I had a 19-month-old girl who had a biting problem when she first started in my care. I felt she was biting because she didnít know us and was scared and not able to deal with her feelings in any other way. Every time she would bite, we would take her aside, sit her in a chair and talk to her about why itís wrong to bite and how it makes the bitten child feel. It took about a month before she stopped biting.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
My grandson is actually going through a biting stage right now. Iíve noticed that instead of asking for things, heíll bite. I have to change a lot of his activities because I think heís bored. What Iíve gotten his parents to do is to watch for what sets him off and what weíve noticed is that he bites whenever he wants something.

Pounding Activities Featured Activity:
Pounding Activities
Activities That Help Manage Aggression Featured Video:
Activities That Help Manage Aggression
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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