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What To Do When A Child Bites

Posted , updated Oct 27, 2005.

What To Do When A Child Bites

Biting is usually an emotionally charged event for everyone – the child bitten, the adult(s) present, the biter, and any parents needing

to be informed. For most children, biting is usually short-lived and does not become a habit. Here are some things to consider when a child bites.

Children bite for different reasons at different ages :

Infants and young toddlers : may bite to relieve aching gums when teething, to learn about objects by “mouthing” or chewing them, or to find out what happens when they bite.

Older Toddlers : may bite when getting little positive attention or interaction, to get someone to move or something they want, to imitate another, or to relieve stress or frustration. Toddlers communicate a lot with their bodies, can become easily frustrated, and are often not able to distinguish between what is loving and what hurts.

Preschoolers : may bite as a last resort or because something disturbing is going on. By this age, with all the social and communication skills they've learned, biting is often a way to ask for help.

What Can Adults Do When a Bite Occurs?

Do not react with extreme alarm when a child bites, but use your face and voice to show it is unacceptable. A child who bites needs to learn that what he did really hurt.

  • Give needed comfort to the child who was bitten.
  • Separate a biter who is out of control until he calms down.
  • Say, “Biting hurts-- you can bite food not people.”
  • Point out the consequences of the biting: “Look, he’s crying. He is sad and hurts.”
  • Say, “Let’s get ice.” Helping the biter think of ways to express sorrow or provide comfort helps develop empathy.
  • Tell the parents of the child who was bitten what happened and what you did to handle the situation.

Treating the bite - Bites that do not break the skin should be cleaned, and treated with a cold compress or ice. Medical treatment by a professional is advised when the bite breaks the skin.

To prevent biting from happening - Don’t expect young children to play unsupervised. Young children are more likely to bite out of frustration and in group situations. They may not be ready to share or play with several children at once. They may need quieter activities or one-on-one time with you.

Provide a cloth or teething ring for infants. Have duplicate toys for toddlers. Make times to play together, read and laugh with your child. Have predictable routines. Children are more secure and less stressed when they are confident of your love and are given clear limits for their behavior.

You are helping your child learn skills for handing emotions and getting along with others.

Revised: Patti Faughn, Family Life Educator, Springfield Center, Fall 2005

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