When a Child Bites

Biting can be scary for everyone: the bitten child, all the parents involved, and even the biter. The Hopkins early childhood staff understand that biting is a developmentally normal behavior, and would like to offer these tips to help you address the biting quickly and thoughtfully.  This information has been collected and paraphrased from Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, authors of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.

  • A child who bites often has an inability to make her needs known, or doesn’t know how to communicate those needs in any other way
  • If you know your child is biting, stay close enough to catch her before it happens
  • Teach your child ways to ask for what she wants, and use these strategies when you see she is about to bite
  • Keep calm and think about what you want to teach in the moment that a child bites

Before a play date, talk to your child about your expectations. Discuss acceptable ways to ask for things such as “Can I have a turn”.  Give her appropriate actions she can take when she is frustrated, such as stomping a foot or saying “I am mad!”  You could also bring along an item it is ok to bite – redirecting her to bite a soft blanket is better than the alternative of biting her friend. Reassure her that you will work with her to use these strategies while you are together at the play date, and then stay close enough to help her when things get difficult.

When there is a biting incident, use the event as a teaching opportunity by following through with action and some of the following statements:

  • Set a limit: Tell your child “I won’t let you bite your friend” or “I will help you stop biting” and then separate the two playmates
  • Give social information: Let your child know that biting causes pain and isn’t friendly.  “Ouch! Biting hurts.”
  • Help children resolve their problem: Use statements that let the child who was bit know that you understand his hurt. Talk to your child about how to help her friend feel better. “You got bit, and I know that hurts.” “How can we help our friend to feel better? Shall we bring him some ice?” If possible, help your child find another way to ask for what she was hoping to get from the bite. “What were you trying to tell your friend? How can we do it in another way?”

Never bite your child in retaliation for her biting someone else. This does not teach your child to stop biting. Instead, it teaches your child that only those who are bigger and stronger can bite.  Children will often go through a phase of biting. If your child is biting she will need adults who can teach her alternatives with respect and patience.

A book can be a helpful way to introduce appropriate behavior expectations, and staff readily recommend Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen as an option for families.

A special thank you to Denise Konen, parent educator for Hopkins Early Childhood / Family Education, for collecting and paraphrasing the above information for staff and parents.

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