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How to Stop a Child from Biting

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian is a real estate investor, MBA, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

Childhood biting is a normal and common occurrence, but there are a variety of options to help stop this behavior in children. In this lesson we review age-appropriate techniques that address the reasons why young children bite.

Stop Childhood Biting

Jillian is a babysitter who just had one of the kids she's watching, Tom, bite his baby brother, Jake. Although it was a bit of shock to both her and baby Jake, Jillian understands that biting is a normal part of childhood development. Although it is normal developmentally, it is important for three year-old Tom to learn that biting is unacceptable. Let's take a look at some of the techniques that Jillian, or any other adult who interacts with children, can use to stop children from biting other people.

Babies

From working with babies Jillian knows that babies bite for many reasons: teething pain, hunger, or even just exploration. A young infant (a child under one year old) does not bite people out of malice. The infant doesn't feel pain when he bites someone. He does not have the capability of understanding that biting causes others pain. Addressing the infant's need will help reduce biting behaviors. Offer a teething baby a cold teething ring, feed him, or try to redirect and distract him with a toy.

Toddlers and Older Children

With toddlers (children between one year old and 36 months) and older children like Tom, Jillian needs to take a different approach to putting a stop to biting behaviors. There are many reasons why a preschool-aged child may bite someone else. It might be out of a need for attention. Often the child aggressively lashes out because he or she is frustrated with something and does not have the vocabulary to express themselves. The child might be overwhelmed from unusual lights or sounds or overtired and need rest. Jillian suspects that Tom has reached the point of tiredness where he needs to sleep but is unwilling to do so.

As children begin to develop feelings of empathy, they can understand that biting hurts other people. Jillian immediately intervenes and tells Tom that biting hurts and is not OK. She separates the two boys and gives Tom time to calm himself. It's important to not yell or raise her voice, and she should never bite back even if she is bitten since this sends the message that biting is acceptable. Instead of focusing attention on Tom though, Jillian should focus on baby Jake. This serves the purpose of making sure the victim is all right and sends a message to Tom that biting will not result in him getting attention. If these actions do not help the child stop biting over a period of time, it may be worth having the parents consult with a child psychologist or other behavioral professional.

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