What can be done about kids who bite?
I once worked with a 22 month old who was referred for biting others at daycare. The parents were very distressed that their child was being labeled as “the problem child” and, understandably, other parents of children in the class weren’t real pleased their children were coming home with bite marks on them!
The parents and daycare staff wanted me to coach them through discipline tactics when the child bit others. The very first thing I asked them to do was to keep a log for a few days of when the child was biting, documenting the who, what, when, where, and possible whys of it. I’m pretty sure by the looks on their faces that this was NOT the response they were hoping to get in their first therapy session! However, in order to develop a plan to address the biting, we needed to know the root of the behavior!
When they came back a week later, we were able to look at the data and determine that for this particular child it was noted that he constantly had things in his mouth and was seeking out oral stimulation along with some attention seeking behaviors. We implemented strategies of providing some healthy crunchy snacks intermittently throughout the day and a chewy toy that the daycare providers could use as preventive tools. The book Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick was read frequently. When he did bite others, he was firmly told “No Biting, Biting hurts. Look at your friend’s face. He is sad. No biting.”
Teachers were then instructed to turn their attention to the child who had been bitten. Often, biting brings attention to the child who has bitten (albeit negative attention, and seriously, what kid doesn’t want an adult’s undivided attention?!) By shifting the focus to the child who was the victim of the biting we were clearly communicating that biting will not get the child attention. Another bonus to this tactic was that it also helped the child learn empathy. This child was then provided his chewy toy and told that biting friends is not ok and he could bite his toy instead. He was praised when he used his chewy toy. Over a period of about a month’s time of using these interventions consistently, much to everyone’s relief, his biting ceased!
There are many other reasons young children bite such as teeth coming in, lack of language skills, expression of excitement, sensory related issues, attention seeking, over-tiredness or they may just simply be experimenting with cause and effect relationships!
Biting back and other ideas….
I am often asked if I feel that biting the child back is a good response so that the child “knows what it feels like” in hopes they won’t do it again. EEEK! No!! Please don’t do this! You’re telling the child not to bite then turning right back around and biting them! If you choose this tactic you’re sending mixed messages to the child.
When a child bites and doesn’t readily let go I have also heard that some have been taught to push their arm into the bite which I also don’t recommend. A fellow colleague once taught me that by gently pinching the child’s nose the child will automatically release the bite in order to get a breath. True story!! I can vouch for this! Hazards of working with toddlers, I’m afraid! The Zero to Three website has an extensive list of strategies for all the various reasons a child may bite and I would highly encourage you to read through them.
Typically, biting in toddlers is a very normal stage in development. If you do have concerns that go beyond the norm, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a behavioral therapist or even an Occupational Therapy evaluation to address your concerns.
Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP
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