Teeth Are For Food, Not Friends: Trying to Stop Biting Behavior

Family Matters on 07.21.11
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It's a sentence that no parent wants to hear when they walk in to pick up their child at daycare. "Does xxxx bite at home?" Uh, oh. That's what I heard when I went to pick up my daughter one day last week. Truthfully, she hadn't been biting at all, and so I told her teacher no. I think she has bitten her brother once many months ago, but she is not generally a "biter" or so I thought. She struck a second time with her fangs this week, and it seems to be the same victim each time. Still I thought it was maybe just a fluke thing. Then she tried to bite me. Twice. In one day. So what's a parent to do when their child bites?

The good news (if there is any) is that you are not alone. According to WebMD, most children under age three bite at least once so when that other mother snarls at you or looks absolutely horrified that you're raising such an animal, don't worry, some day she will be in the exact same position. Children bite for different reasons, usually based on their age. My daughter is two years old. WebMD says:

"Between 15 and 36 months of age, children may bite other people when they are frustrated or want power or control over another person. Usually they bite other children. Less frequently they bite their caregivers. Children of this age usually stop biting as they learn that biting is not acceptable behavior."

Her case of biting is apparently text book. I suspected that the reason she bit her friend was that she was frustrated. This was reinforced when she attempted to bite me, both times when I was trying to get her into her car seat and she didn't want to get in. Luckily my ninja like moves (at least against a toddler) blocked her and she didn't get me. But I want to make sure that she doesn't get those who don't have the stealth moves that I do.

To the internet! Here are a few things that the experts on the internet say will stop biting behavior.

1.       Encouraging the child to use language to express himself or herself. Say, "Use your words, don't bite." -WedMD.com

2.       Provide some praise and positive attention when she isn't biting and is playing nicely. -Pediatrics.About.com

3.       Immediately remove the biter for a mini -- time-out, which will help defuse the intense feelings. For most toddlers, even a 30-second break will feel like an eternity. -Parenting.com

4.       If biting persists, try a negative consequence.  For example, do not hold or play with a child for five minutes after he or she bites. -American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology

5.       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. -KidsGrowth.com

In addition to making it clear that biting is not acceptable, Dr. Ruth Peters says that it's important that parents don't make a big scene over biting:

"If the child is rewarded by a significant reaction, the initial exploratory nibble may evolve into a full-blown problem occurring both at home and at preschool. Kid behavior that is given attention tends to reoccur, even if the adult perceives the attention as negative rather than rewarding."

My sister was a biter and my mother swears the only way to stop it was to bite her back. Sorry mom, but ALL of the experts say not to do that. Children should naturally grow out of the biting phase, but if it persists for a several weeks despite your best efforts, it is suggested that you contact your pediatrician. We have been bite free for a few days now. I'm hoping we are out of the woods, but if not, I'll use these tips to get us through to the bite-free side of life.

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