How to Stop Your Child from Biting

What Usually Works - After A Little While

Babies nearing a year old and those just over a year old may discover biting. This biting isn't usually an act of aggression. When parents react to the biting the baby discovers he can get a reaction - and that's the thing that makes the baby bite again (and sometimes again).

When biting is at this age, it's tempting to just wait it out. The wait, however, is a long one when a one-year-old bites several times a day.

Trying to prevent situations that encourage the baby to bite can help reduce the problem. My daughter, at about ten months old, discovered that it was funny to bite the back of my hand, as I pushed the shopping cart with her in the infant seat. I would be minding my business, conscientiously keeping my hand on the cart's handle, when - all of a sudden, as I was reading the cereal box - my hand would be bitten.

Once I realized it had become a regular thing I knew enough to make sure she had a cat food box (with a big picture of cat's face on it) to look at while we shopped. Also, I would give her a piece of cheese or some other snack. One-year-olds can be kept busy with food.

The biting incidents were reduced, but even then I'd see her head start to dip down toward my hand. I found that a very calm, but clearly firm, "non-reaction" was effective. I would calmly take my hand away, look at her (without a shred of reaction in my eyes), and calmly say, "No. You don't do that." The effective "non-reaction" should be sober, low-key, firm, calm, authoritative, and non-emotional.

After a while the biting stopped. I suspect it was that she outgrew that phase, rather than my method. Still, at least I knew that I had not encouraged more biting during the time when it was a problem. (My son didn't bite at that age, but he discovered face-slapping - another fun thing for almost-ones to do.)

When children around two years old bite it isn't that "Hey-I-know-what-would-be-fun" kind of biting. Instead, some children this age bite out of frustration, which sometimes turns into anger. (Maybe they learned that it was effective back when they were one - I don't know.) The good thing about two-year-olds, though, is that they are old enough to understand what you are saying when you say, "You can't bite. We don't let anyone hurt you, and you are not to hurt anyone else."

Two-year-olds are very new to realizing they are independent little people, but they're brand new at dealing with the frustrations that come from being both newly independent and uncertain about many things. If a playmate casually takes a toy from them they aren't happy about it. If a parent stops them from opening the refrigerator door they get angry.

Most two-year-olds, like one-year-olds, will also grow out of this. In the meantime, there are two aims: 1) to reduce the situations that potentially invite biting and 2) to teach the child that biting will not be tolerated.

Reducing situations where biting may occur may mean not allowing a two-year-old who bites to play with other toddlers without an adult keeping an eye of both children. If the playmate takes a toy the adult can intervene on behalf of the "biter", explaining to the other child, "Freddy was playing with that. You can have your turn in a minute." What this does is show "Freddy" (the biter) that someone will stand up for him when he is feeling assaulted. It will also show him an example of how problems can be straightened out with words and a plan.

When the adult hasn't been fast enough to stop the playmate from taking Freddy's toy, the next option is to intervene before Freddy bites. Heading off the biting, and telling Freddy (in a calm but firm voice), "You cannot bite. If you try to bite again you won't be able to stay and play," will help Freddy to get practice in having his urge to bite interrupted. Telling Freddy, "You cannot play with other children if you try to bite" will let Freddy know he won't get to enjoy playmates with his unacceptable behavior.

It shouldn't take too long before Freddy learns to interrupt his own urge to bite.

The same kind of approach can be used if a child tries to bite a parent who has upset him: 1) Try to eliminate scenarios that invite biting and 2) Be quick enough to head off the bite, while calmly expressing that biting is unacceptable. If biting occurs when the child has a "Terrible-Two" temper tantrum try to reduce the number of frustrations that cause the tantrums. Two-year-olds don't like surprises and do like to have some control over what they do. Sometimes telling a child about the plans for the day, or giving him a couple of limited choices about things that affect him, can keep tantrums to a minimum.

Telling a two-year-old ahead of time, "Even though we usually watch Barney after lunch, today we're going to go to the store. Won't that be a good thing to do?" can make him feel he's been let in on the plans. Adding something like, "When we go to the store, do you want to get plain crackers or Gold Fish?" adds to the child's sense of sharing in the plans.

Talking about not biting should not be reserved for crisis moments. During driving time or bath time parents can talk about all kinds of things with the child. Talking nicely about how people shouldn't bite, and how children who bite won't have friends, will be more understood than many parents realize.

Finally, the method recommended by Jo Frost, television's "SuperNanny", does work with children over two. SuperNanny instructs parents to establish a "Naughty Chair" or "Naughty Step, a chair or step to be used when the child misbehaves.

Her method is to calmly remove the child from the situation (for example, the scene of the biting episode), tell him once why he's being placed on the "Naughty Chair", say nothing else, and use his age to determine how long he will be left there. (A two-year-old would be left for two minutes, a four-year-old would be left for four minutes.)

Parents are instructed to return to the child when the time is up, ask him to say he's sorry for what he did, hug him, and allow him to leave the chair (or step).

Not all two-year-olds bite, but two is the time when those who do generally learn that they shouldn't bite. Life is not quite as upsetting when you're three years old. Three-year-olds, too, have usually managed to polish their social skills.

When children three or older bite parents can use SuperNanny's technique, although they may want consider getting professional guidance with their child, since biting is usually a problem reserved for the under-three set.

"Charlie Bit My Finger " (Sometimes Biting Can Be Kind of Cute)

SuperNanny Books and DVD

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Comments 55 comments

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 5 years ago from Massachusetts Author

ZaHus, I apologize that it's taken me so long to get to this comment. (HubPages is a spare-time thing for me, and I'm sometimes kind of scattered when it comes to getting around to one thing or another.) I'd like to come back and give your comment the kind of time and attention it deserves (not that, at this point, you'll be looking for a reply). Again, I'm sorry to have missed this until now.

ekenzy, thank you. I hope it can help (at least some).


ekenzy profile image

ekenzy 5 years ago

nice hub lisa. i hope it will help my little cousin


ZaHus 5 years ago

My two and half yrs old hits and bites. He just started this behaviour very recently and I am very concerned. He gets angry and makes a little fist and hits right on the face; eye or mouth; He does this to me and my husband and his six and half yr old sister. He doesn't like the word NO and every time it happens for any one of us to use it; he gets up makes his little fist; goes and hits.I have tried holding his hand trying to ease his anger/feelings; it works sometimes and it doesn't work too. What concerns me the most is the biting part that he just started recently. He bites other kids if I or my husbnad hold/be nice/play/or take care of those kids. He doesn't bite bigger kids; he bites my 3 yr old nephew and my 3 and half yrs old neice. Recently I have had to take care of them since their parents went on trip. My son not only bites them; he himself doesn't sleep well and doesn't eat will either. I am hoping that he would stop doing this once the kids are gone to their own houses; but at least for now his behaviour is leaving those little kids with bite marks every where. I dont know what to do. I have another week to go with other two kids and my son seems to get worse every morning he wakes up seeing them in the house.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 5 years ago from Massachusetts Author

talfonso, how could I NOT add that video? LOL Finding that was kind of disgusting, though, because YouTube is loaded with videos of adults, thinking it was funny, re-creating the Charlie Bit My Finger video. LOL


talfonso profile image

talfonso 5 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

Parents should read those pieces of advice! Oh, and I was expecting the famous "Charlie bit my finger" vid, and lo and behold! Isn't it relevant?


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

al_masculine, thank you for your kind words. :) (I know the Charlie video is pretty much over-exposed at this point, but I did think it seemed right for the subject. :)


al_masculine 6 years ago

The 'charlie bit my finger' video is a kind of cute. I watched it some days ago on facebook, surprisingly, now I can watch it again.

Wooow! Truly a great hub you have here. Its really educating and informative. Hoping to read more of your hubs.

Awesome!


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

dawnM, thank you. Nobody has suggested your technique above. I can see how that would work for some kids, and I wonder if it would work more on the the youngest, or the more immature, children because; if you think about it, there's a different kind of look on the face of a toddler who is about to bite than of a more mature (but still very young) child who bites more out of apparent aggressiveness.

The littlest ones almost get the kind of look of that "imaginary light bulb" we seen in cartoons (the one associated with "I have an idea."). Sometimes that look is more mischievous looking than others time, but it's there. One-year-olds who enjoy smacking a parent's face can actually seem to have mischief in their eyes. Sometimes, maybe the "look" is more an absence of another look (the look that happens when a child is frustrated and upset and may resort to behavior that's aggressive).

So, just guessing, but I can see how a two-year-old who bites may just be a different version of the less complex one-year-old who enjoys getting that reaction he gets when he smacks a parent's face. In fact (again, just guessing, of course), maybe a two-year-old has learned better than to smack a parent's face (or else he has learned a "less basic", more complicated, way to get reaction). I can see how the "get-a-reaction" motivation for biting could have no aggression in it at all; and how, if the otherwise non-aggressive two-year-old feels his own teeth, he may see the "reality" of the feel of teeth and not want to hurt someone.

I can see how the other (approximately) half of the kids could either be aggressive children or else completely and utterly frustrated and too young to control their urge to act out. That's where, I think, though, parents/caregivers can do something about a) not being the ones who frustrate their child non-stop in the first place, and b) kind of try to protect their child from too much frustration (as with having to deal with too many other young children for too long, with too little supervision) for too long a stretch at a time.

As for aggressive children (which are, I think, in the minority for the most part), children learn aggressiveness and rough treatment of others from those around them (parents, older siblings, other kids in daycare, cousins, etc.) I think that's one thing parents can focus on too.


dawnM profile image

dawnM 6 years ago from Camarillo, CA

Hi Lisa, I was trying to go through all of the hub remarks to see if someone suggested this, if they did and I missed it please excuse me. By the way I want to applaud you on an excellent article.

Biting is one of those things that some kids will go through that phase and it is really embarrassing for the parents that have to explain it to other parents that their kid is a bitter.

One technique that has really worked for me and when I used to help kids in my practice and they have to at least be around two years of age to even get this. Is to take their own hand and place it up against their teeth not hard but to let them feel that they have sharp teeth and it hurts when they use them to bit on others.

This has worked a good fifty percent or more.

There is something psychological about them feeling their own teeth on their hand. Just a suggestion.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

miko, thank you for sharing here. If it's a "game" you play with him, and if you don't mind, and if he doesn't bite people other than you, I guess it's your choice if you don't mind. On the other hand, if you do mind and would like him to stop, I wonder if it might help if you told him, "We need to think of some new, funny, thing to do when someone gets to close to you; because you're getting bigger now, and people aren't supposed to bite other people, because it hurts." Since you say he doesn't talk well, I don't know how much he understands; but I wonder if you could then tell him to do something like say a silly sound or word, or make a signal with his hand or arm to let people know he thinks they're too close. I wonder if you and he could think of something "really silly" (little kids love "silly" things) for him to do instead of biting. He might get a kick of out it and decide it's even funnier than biting. The only reason I mention this is that I wasn't sure if you were looking for suggestions or just sharing that biting can be some children's idea of fun (which it can be, of course). :)

Usually, even if parents don't mind something like being bitten as "fun", it's a good idea to help children learn what kind of thing is "how fun should be" and what kind of thing (like biting, which can hurt and could really be objectionable to someone like other kids he's playing with) isn't really "what fun is supposed to be".

Again, though, since I wasn't sure if you wanted any suggestions or if you were just sharing your own "thing" that you have between you and your little guy, please overlook if I've included ideas here that you weren't looking for and don't need or want. I know that lots of time parents will have some kind of fun thing with their child, and it isn't something the child does with anyone else or needs to stop doing if it's just between him and his parent. :) (Four is a great age because they really are old enough to have a sense of humor and get a giant kick out of all kinds silly things, fun, and spending time with parents. They're so much fun to be with at that age.)


miko 6 years ago

i have a 4 year who is blind and cannot talk as well. recently he started biting once you get close to him. he bites and laugh off because he sees as fun. it could be painful and irritating but we love him.


amanda poisson 6 years ago

hey guys so i was wondering my 2 yr old bites kids for no reasons, we have done both the time out and talked to him telling him no u dont bite and all that. its gotten so bad now that ive lost my sitter and im a single mom in school so i need some help any advice? email is amanda_poisson@hotmail.com thanks


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

JulianaC, thanks. There are a lot of thing SuperNanny does that I'm not a big fan of; but then again, my kids weren't out of control the way the kids on that show are (which is why they're on the show in the first place). I'm not a big fan of the thing that she makes little children apologize against their will (but that's just my opinion). In fairness to her, though, she's dealing with parents who pretty much "don't have a clue", don't know how to get their children to respect them, and are at their wits end. She's dealing with kids who are so out-of-control it's hard to believe there are kids like that.

I think by the time things are so out-of-control in a family, how to restore some normalcy takes an approach that isn't right in families where the parents are normal and capable, and the kids are well behaved (or at least reasonably well behaved). I do think it's good that she teaches parents how to regain some control and respect without yelling or hitting (which don't do anything for regaining control or gaining respect anyway).

When it comes to those kids on that show and whether or not they'll ever have the most ideal parents, I pretty much that shipped sailed and those kids weren't on it. Given the parents' lack of natural parenting skill, I kind of think SuperNanny helps those families be as "functional" as they're ever going to be. So, while everyone has his own opinion (which is how things should be, of course), I'm not sure I'm as entirely put off by her techniques (at least for kids as troubled and out-of-control as the ones on the show) as you are. Things are pretty bad when parents need to be told they need to spend time with their children, so at least SuperNanny gets them to do that much and teaches the kids not to act like the pre-Anne Sullivan, 5-year-old, Helen Keller at the dinner table in The Miracle Worker. I'm not a "giant fan" of SuperNanny; but I guess my point is the kids she deals with are already very much being treated like objects, animals, enemies, or aliens. At least she helps some of those families get that much closer to normal.


JulianaC 6 years ago

anyone who follows supernanny's advice must certainly think of children as worthy as animals and objects.

Thanks!


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

quirkyfruit, she pretty much sounds like most of the generally nice, otherwise non-aggressive, two-year-olds who have been "pushed into" because of being frustrated and angry at the moment. In short, I don't really have any suggestions beyond what's above. If the teacher already brought up the point about rough play, I'm guessing it was probably pretty rough (if someone who deals with children that age went as far as to call it "rough"). Of course, I don't have any way of really knowing, but I'm guessing the difference between the "most dramatic" bite and any others may have been with your child's degree of feeling upset or angry with whatever that "receiving end" involved.

I'm not defending biting at all, but my immediate thoughts in response to your post (and comments about the "rough play") was, "Why was such rough play allowed to go on long enough to get the child on the receiving end of it that upset? If it wasn't a case of rough play going on longer than it should have; and if, instead, what was described as "rough play" was more along the lines of the other child doing something like trying to "struggle-away" a toy from your daughter in one, single, act - that still makes me wonder why it was allowed to go on for that long. If your daughter had a toy, and the other little one came over and started to "muscle it away from her" (which is what some two-year-olds will do), why didn't a teacher or assistant step in and tell the other child to stop? As adults, the usual thinking is that biting is a "more dramatic" and "less acceptable" behavior; but if a child of only two years old is feeling pushed around by another child, and if no adult steps in, that's leaving the child to have to think up her own ways of fighting off the "aggressor".

Again, I'm not defending biting or saying children don't need to learn not to use biting as a way to "settle disputes"; but I don't think two-year-olds are particularly capable of having that degree of self-discipline in that kind of situation.

To me, if you know your little girl doesn't "just walk up to other kids and bite" (and some kids do that, as you can see just from a few comments above), I'd think the thing to discuss with the teacher is why that other child wasn't stopped. Most of us have seen how that "muscle-away thing" works between two two-year-olds with one toy. Usually, a two-year-old is either not "the type" to try to do something like take away another child's or is. I think a lot of people know how common it is for two-olds to be rough with playmates, and they think, "It's just what all two-year-olds do - and the other two-year-olds 'need to learn' not to bite in response to it." If a child bites in response to another child's aggressive behavior, though, all of a sudden biting "isn't just what two-year-olds may do under such circumstances" because biting is "more dramatic/more offensive" than other forms of aggression two-year-olds use.

To me, if a child just willy-nilly walks up to other children and bites them, the child is the one who has a problem someone needs to address. If a two-year-old bites in response to not being able to deal with a child who is acting aggressively toward him, the other child (even if his actions aren't as "shocking" as biting is) is the one whose aggression someone needs to address. That's not saying biting, even in those circumstances, is acceptable; and it's not saying the teacher shouldn't mention it. I just don't think this particular reason for biting (in a two-year-old) should be "turned into" your child's being the one "has a problem". Six or ten months from now, chances are your little girl will have outgrown the stage where the only thing she knows to do is bite. She may learn to hit, shove, tell a teacher, or even get so she cries instead of biting. For now, as long as you know she isn't the one who just walks up to other kids and bites for "no reason", I think all you can do is keep letting her know biting isn't acceptable (and make sure you use a no-nonsense tone, rather than a "sweet-talk-for-a-two-year-old" kind of tone).

People so often say, "Well, they have to learn they just can't do that," and that's true. Often, though, they (children) will learn they "just can't do that" just by getting a little older and after hearing the message long enough. They (particularly two-year-olds) just can have trouble "getting the message" (and implementing it) before they're really developmentally ready.

It's the job/responsibiity of people like daycare/preschool teachers to report these kinds of things; but chances are, the teacher knows exactly what happened and doesn't expect you to do more than what you've been doing. If someone's child had his skin broken it isn't something they can ignore. I'm guessing, though, if the other child was being aggressive (and if they have any common sense), they know "these things happen". Maybe, too, now that they know you're child can be pushed into biting if someone doesn't step in, they'll be a little quicker to step in if someone gets rough with her.

I wish I had better answers here (and you can probably tell from all the wordiness and "wheel-spinning" I've done that I've tried to think up whatever ideas there may be).

Here's a confession: I wasn't two at the time either. I was six when a boy (my age) bullied me relentlessly every time I had to walk past his house to school or to the store for my mother. I was, and always have been (to this day) about the least aggressive kind of person anyone will ever be. This went on for ages, and my parents said they "didn't want to fight with neighbors over kids". This was a street-wise little boy from a family with a lot of kids. The mother never showed her face outside the house, and the father beat the kids.

The kid (who couldn't even pronounce my name right at six) kept bullying, and it got worse and worse to the point where I was getting more and more afraid of him. One day I was afraid of him to the point where I finally decided to take my metal lunchbox (the only thing I had) and "bash him one" with it. He cried, and I felt as I finally had taken care of the problem. (Today, I think of what an awful thing it was to hit a child with a metal lunchbox; but at the time I saw it as the only way to stop this kid.)

Thinking to my six-year-old thinking, I recall that I was actually proud of what I'd done because adults had sent the message that I needed to learn to take care of myself when it came to "kid stuff". Never in my life have I ever hit anyone else (not because of that incident, but because I'm just not aggressive - believe it or not). Just thinking about how unacceptable and horrible what I did was makes me a little nauseous.

After I sent the kid home crying, his father showed up at our front door, telling my father that I had hurt his son. Of course, I came out looking like the horrible kid because his verbal taunting and hints that he was going to hurt me weren't as horrible as what I did.

To me, if a non-aggressive (and I mean "completely and utterly sensitive and kind and always looking out for anyone who was hurt) six-year-old like me could be pushed to being that "horrible", think of how easily it is to push a two-year-old who doesn't know what else to do into doing something unacceptable. At the time, I thought of what I had that would most hurt this kid, and I aimed to hit him as hard I could. Oddly, and as a six-year-old thinker, I wasn't aiming to hurt this kid. I was aiming to stop him. I saw making him cry as proof that I'd stopped him. I wasn't a stupid kid, but it didn't even occur to me that making him cry and hurting him were the same thing. I guess I was trying to show him I "meant business". Children just don't think the same way adults do.

I know none of this particular story offers you much help, but I guess it all goes back to that difference between kids who out-of-the-blue act aggressively and kids who feel helpless and do the only thing they can think of.


quirkyfruit 6 years ago

I've got a 27 month old girl who has recently bitten 2 kids at her nursery school. There was 2.5 weeks between the episodes so it's not as if it's a regular thing that I can pinpoint it to. However, on both occasions, the teacher said that there had been some rough play and my girl had been on the receiving end of it. So I can only assume that she was acting out of frustration or over-excitement. When I asked why she bit the kids, she couldn't understand my question and just said "I bite [kid's name] and he/she cry". So she understands the cause & effect but couldn't tell me why she did it in the first place. I'm trying to teach her different responses - like saying "Stop. I'm angry" instead of biting but it's early days & I don't know if she gets it.

She has previously bitten or tried to bite my husband or I when she's frustrated that we don't let her do something but it's rare & we always tell her 'No' and implemented the naughty corner. I talk to her afterwards and explain why she shouldn't bite but I'm not sure she gets it. When she was younger, when she got over-excited, she would go to bite but just put her teeth on my skin & not actually bite. I would still her "No teeth" but maybe I wasn't firm enough then. I'm beside myself! 95% of the time, she is a wonderful, caring, helpful, happy, obedient girl but this latest biting episode was bad (it broke the other kid's skin & there was slight bleeding). All my friends can't believe it when I tell them as she's always been the quiet, caring kid & never retaliated when toys were taken off her by other kids. Any suggestions?


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Lisa S, it's not really clear to me who's doing the biting - your toddler or your four-year-old. I'm assuming it's your toddler because 1-year-olds bite. I think if he's the one biting his older brother, one of the only things you can do is not let them play alone/unsupervised together too often or for too long; and if you're in the room keep an eye out for if your toddler gives off signs he's going to bite (and then stop him, and tell him, "no" - and move him away).

Four-year-olds get frazzled and upset if a toddler-sibling does things like bite "all the time", so I think breaks from "together time" could at least reduce the opportunity for baby to bite.

It can seem positive and natural to just let two little brothers be together "all the time", but just while the little guy is one, it might help to just kind of steer the two of them toward different activities more often.

A lot of people may not agree with me, but I think if my one-year-old were biting my preschooler, I'd use things like baby gates or a nice, big, "kiddy corale", to keep the toddler in one room/area near me; and let the four-year-old play with his own toys by himself in a room nearby (some of the time).

If your four-year-old goes to preschool you could let your toddler roam free when he's in school. If the one-year-old goes bed earlier than his older brother, that would give your older child some time without his little brother "harassing" him. Since the one-year-old probably naps, that would be yet more time without having to supervise the two of them together.

I'd sit the baby in a high chair for meals (more time without access to his brother), make sure they were both secured in their car seats in the car (no chance to bite when fastened in car seats). I'd probably use breakfast/early-morning time together with the two of them as a time to be with them, enjoying "together time" with both of them (but watching closely); and I'd do something similar with lunch and dinner. That would leave the few hours between meals (I'm assuming broken up by a nap or two) to find a way to let them play together; while also limiting that together-play time, so opportunities to bite may be reduced. I'd use the baby's nap times to spend "alone time" with my older son, maybe doing something like sitting together and playing blocks, coloring, or doing something that would give him some practice experience how much fun it can be to sit down and do some "quiet" activity.

I'd use the baby's "just-woke-up" time to spend with him alone, and encourage his older brother to then play by himself for awhile. Somewhere in there the two could still play together (but be supervised closely). I wouldn't let that go on too long, though. Instead, I'd then do something like put some of the baby's favorite toys where he could get them in the coral, or room with a gate, and let the two children play by themselves for another little while.

None of this would eliminate the biting problem (time should eliminate it if it's your one-year-old who bites), but it would cut down on the opportunities for biting - which may be about all you can do until your baby gets a little older.

I don't know if you already do any of these things; and as I said, I'm not even sure it's your younger child who's biting. I'm just assuming it is. I don't know if any of these ideas may at all "apply" or be of any help; but feel free to post additional information if you think there's a chance I may be able to come up with anything useful.


Lisa S 6 years ago

I have a 4 year old who is very hyper and can not sit still for more than a minute. He has a younger brother who is 1 and he bites him all the time. I dont know what to do anymore. I need help!


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Kris1119, I put together the separate Hub. I don't know if it will be of any help:

http://hubpages.com/hub/When-A-Three-Year-Old-Bite...


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Kris1119, sorry it took a little while to get back to respond here. As I began writing my guesses in response to your post, I realized there may be a space problem in the comment box. I'm going to write a separate Hub aimed specifically at your situation, and I'll be back by no later than tomorrow evening (Wednesday, May 5) to post it. (Sorry. Things got busy. I had to move things up until Wednesday.

Of course, I'm only making guesses; so I'm not sure it will be at all helpful. It's just that I realized trying to imagine all the possible motivations will take up quite a bit of space.


Kris1119 6 years ago

Lisa, thank you for a wonderful article.

I am currently at my wits' end with my 3.5 yr old son. He is an intelligent and rather "active" child who is easily distracted and easily frustrated and angered, but who is also easily re-directed at home and who complies very well with the 1-2-3 approach.

Daycare/Preschool, however, is another story entirely.

He is in a larger daycare/preschool setting and exhibited some biting behavior around the age of two shortly after we transitioned there. That behavior ceased after a few months, and but started up again at the beginning of this month. He has bitten four times this month, twice rather badly, twice provoked, twice seemingly not.

Three days ago we moved him up to the 4's classroom in an attempt to separate him from a child he most frequently has problems with. The first two days went better than ever, even with the huge transition, but then at the very last moment of the third day while outside at recess (unstructured play time) he bit a younger child (not the one we were separating him from) whose arm was sticking through the playground fence that separates the younger and older kids. As far as anyone can tell, this was completely unprovoked.

We have been over and over this, literally three times per day, every single day, about no biting, biting hurts, when you're angry you can stomp your feet and yell, you can even bite yourself, but we do NOT bite other people etc etc etc.

He seems to understand all of this and yet when the situation arises it's almost like he can't contol himself. He has been given every consequence we can think of at home, he has had all of his privileges taken away, we have done everything we can think of, and yet, here we are facing possible expulsion from preschool.

At preschool I believe they tell him no and remove him from the situation and then have him sit in a supervised time out.

We do not see any of these behaviors at home. We do not see it with his 5 yr old sister, nor do we see it at parks and playgrounds with other children his age or younger even when he is playing for an hour or more in a large group of kids. This behavior only seems to happen at daycare/preschool.

What can I do to help him stop biting?


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Jamie, hang in there. He'll be three soon. :) 8 or 9 two-year-olds to a teacher is on the high side. I know this may only be in Massachusetts, where I live, but here's the ratios shown for center-based daycares:

http://www.daycare.com/massachusetts/ (They define as "preschooler" as 2.9 months old - so your child is still under the "toddler" category.)


Jamie  6 years ago

We have tried time-out as well as biting him back- (not hard) BUT they say not to do that because it could make it worse? He is invinsible! Nothing hurts him he is a normal 2 year old boy who acts his age totally! Thanks for the advise. I think we are going to try and find a smaller day-care or a friend or someone to watch him so that way he can have more attention durning the day and hopefully that will solve the problem. He is in a class of 25 kids and 3 teachers?


sdipple profile image

sdipple 6 years ago from Ohio

Great article :) My oldest son, who is now ten, bit me once when he was two - on the bottom in the garage. I did bite him back - not hard, but enough to make him feel it. He never did it again.

My second son was going through biting at daycare. He is a more aggressive child and no amount of talking, time outs, etc. did any good. Finally, one day I called from work to see if he had been biting. He had. I got in the car, drove to daycare, took him out of his classroom, spanked him, put him back in the room and went back to work. He never bit again.

I am sure my youngest one will begin to bite at some stage. It seems more drastic measures work with my kids, but everyone is different. Biting happens. It's normal and it is up to the parents to work with their kids on it.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Jamie, it's hard to guess without seeing what's going on when he bites.

Usually, it's pretty easy for any adult who is supervising a couple of toddlers to see whether one toddler "takes the initiative" in biting, or whether he has bitten out of frustration at the other child doing something (like taking a toy out of his hand).

It would seem to me that if the teachers there say they don't what's causing it; either they aren't supervising well enough to see what leads to the biting (and maybe prevent it) (and they may or may not realize they aren't supervising well enough and not bring it up). A child is either "biting out of the blue" or else biting because of something the other kid did. Someone watching the children is going to know which of those two things took place.

There's the possibility the teachers aren't quick enough or tuned in enough to head off biting, and people who are kind of "laid back" about supervising children often don't think there's any other way to be. In other words, there's the chance they're "clueless" - which explains why they don't know what causes it. :)

Then again, they may see exactly what goes on, and they may see that your child bites out of the blue - and that could explain why they say they don't know what causes it.

I know a lot of people use time-out with children this young, and I know it can work at times; but it isn't something I think happens to be all that effective all the time, especially for a child only a few months past his second birthday. A lot of the time they just "don't get" what time-out is supposed to be about.

In general, knowing how a lot of children under two years old are, I wouldn't really think the younger children are "bullying" their older peer, because usually children under two haven't reached a "bullying" kind of stage yet. They may be clumsy (and fall on little kids) or they may try to take a toy another child is playing with; but for the most part, toddlers under two haven't yet become "sophisticated enough" to bully. I can imagine how a child who is just short of two years old may be a problem. Somewhere around two years old children become more "up and coming" (aggressive sometimes, not always) than toddlers closer to 18 months and younger.

I don't how well your child's language skills have come along (it's very different among different two-year-olds, as you know); but I think if it were my two-year-old (even if his language skills aren't all that far along) I might try talking to him (which I'm sure you already do), but adding a little "game-playing" to give him practice stopping and thinking about what he should do if someone takes a toy away.

I think I'd try something like telling him, "Let's play a game. I'll give you a toy, and when I take it away, you go tell your Teddy Bear over there that I took your toy away. Bring him over and he can tell me to give it back."

I'd play that kind of game (no real rules, and ad lib as you go along) for a few times, then I'd change what he should do if I took away the toy. I'd try something like, "When I take what I give you away, you say, 'No. That's mine.'" (or if he's able to, he could say something like, "Mommy, that's mine. Please give it back to me." All through playing I'd "throw in" how when someone takes away a toy "we never bite, do we?".

You could also add, "When someone takes away your toy, we don't cry do we?"

I'd keep saying things like, "Let's pretend you're in school/day-care now. Make-believe I'm your friend."

I'd then so something like say, "OK - we're playing now. Da da da di - here we are, playing in school." He may be able to get what you're asking him to do, or maybe he won't; but if nothing else, it will be talking and getting him pondering what this "game" is all about.

I'd also remind him about the "game" and what he should do right before dropping him off, and I'd ask the teachers to remind him when it was time for the children to play.

I might also (at another time) use dolls or stuffed animals to try to help learn and think about it. He could have one doll. You could have the other. You could make the dolls "play" and "be happy together"; and then you could say something like, "See what good friends they are? See how nicely they play together? What would happen if my doll decided to bite your doll?" Then make the doll bite the one he's playing with, and let him show what the doll would do. If he doesn't seem to know how to play along, show him what his doll would do. Talk about, practice, show him what each doll should do if the other one bites; and "talk to" the "offending" doll and tell them how they won't have friends if they bite, or how it isn't nice to hurt someone by biting them. This kind of thing might be practice for him if he "just bites out of the blue".

If you haven't (and if they don't just do this now), I'd ask the teachers to remind him that if someone does something he doesn't like he can come tell them.

If I sit here and try to guess what might be going on, I can't help but think he's either reacting to one of the other children taking something away from him (or maybe bumping into him or falling) and feeling "attacked" (because he doesn't understand why they do something; in which case that would explain why he doesn't bite the older kids at home.

If he's just biting his day-care mates out of the blue, but not the older kids at home; that, I think, might indicate he knows enough to know he can get the best of the younger children; or else he has learned to get some attention from biting (even if that's only attention in terms of getting an adult to get the other child away from him). I'm guessing that if he's biting out of the blue (just walking up to a child and biting him), he's either getting frazzled being expected to have too many other children around him for longer than, maybe, he can deal with; or else he's got a hint of an aggressive streak, maybe because of his age. If he's not being aggressive with anyone outside, that might show that he can control himself if he thinks he needs to. (If he couldn't he might bite you if he gets sick of being out in the grocery store, for example.)

So, that's why I'd try the talking very frequently, playing the "game" frequently, reminding him as you drop him off, and asking the teachers to remind him before - not after - he has the chance to bite.

If he's a little guy who seems to like to go off by himself and just kind of relax (at home), it might be a sign that he's got "introvert leanings"; so if he's someone who will always need to get away from a crowd here and there, that could explain why being with other children may get him upset once its gone on too long for his tastes. :) I think if it were my child I'd talk to the teachers about this possibility too. Maybe they could make sure he gets a little more time "off somewhere" (maybe off in a corner by himself, playing alone or looking at a book - something quiet?)

If he's "just being a little aggressive", even if he's as young as he is, talking is usually the best way to (eventually) get "the message" to young children. Not just talking, though - really "driving home the message" when he's in that pleasant, playing, listening to you, frame of mind.

I have no idea if any of these suggestions will do even a little good; because two-year-olds are two-year-olds, and sometimes they just need to get past two-and-a-half or so to get past any "issues" associated with being two.

I'm pretty much guessing and "playing by ear" here, based on the things I'd try if it were my child.

I don't know, though.... To me, the daycare people must know that there's always going to be a two-year-old here or there who bites. I can't help but think, knowing that this can be something two-year-olds do (at least for awhile), they ought to know how to keep a closer eye on him, how to make sure he isn't expected to "police himself" for too long, and generally have a plan for what they do if they have a child who (at least for now) bites.

It's really too much to expect even a handful of toddlers to go through a whole day and always be "sociall


Jamie  6 years ago

Lisa, my husband and i have a 28 month old who is in Daycare, he is a pretty good kid at home plays well with his 6 year old sister but EVERYDAY at daycare he bites a kid. The teachers say that they are not sure what causes it? i am not sure if it is the surroundings the younger kids or m=him getting mad over something but i do know if this continues i will have to quit my job to stay home with him he has already been kicked out of Daycare once for this and it stopped for a while but started up again? We put him in time out and we tell him that it is not nice, and that it hurts the kids... but somehow i do not think this effects him? i am not sure what to do about this? Do you think it could be the younger kids bullying him and this is his only defence? Or what? Because he plays fine with his sister and cousins who are older than he is?


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

dbris52, thanks.


cbris52 profile image

cbris52 6 years ago

Charlie Bit Me! Oh Charlie! That video is just too cute. I enjoyed reading your hub.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Sue, thanks for sharing another kind of "biting scenario" in young children. I'm going to post my response with anyone else who may read in mind (so I'm not assuming you're particularly looking for my "two cents" on your son's relatively harmless-seeming biting).

For children as young as your son is (and sometimes older ones) biting can be a matter of "sense-of-humor-gone-wild". With some kinds of play, particularly something like tickling (or "roughhousing" for older kids) kids just get a little "wilder" than they otherwise would and don't know when to stop or else they don't know enough where to draw the line (and who could expect a 20-month old to know anyway... (It's the old thing that mothers often say, "Stop now, before someone gets hurt.")

It seems to me you're doing pretty much what anyone should do with a twenty-one-month old who bites in that situation should do - just end the situation without fanfare (as opposed to keeping playing and "encouraging" yet more).

There's the chance he's one of the many children who actually hate being tickled or even some other kinds of physical-contact play; and even though he may know the tickling is part of an otherwise fun play time, he may have figured out that biting is a very effective way to end the activity. A child that young has little he can do to stop something. As young as he is, he understands that it's all in play and that you're not doing something like taking away a toy from him.

Kids who are being tickled often say, "stop" or "no" without it stopping the tickling; so I'm guessing your little guy has just figured out a way to effectively end the playing that's going on.

Maybe hitting works for him too. :) I'm guessing that he feels so completely comfortable with you, and he may trust that you won't get angry with him for doing it, that he may feel a little freer "do what it takes". Maybe, too, if his father is better able to "get the best of him" it isn't as easy for him to get as much "open opportunity" to bite or hit. There's also the chance your husband responds with a little less "grace" than you do. Also, if you play with your little guy that way more often than your husband does, your son may just be so comfortable and used to that kind of play with you what he does and you do has just become "how it's always done" and "part of the usual deal".


Sue 6 years ago

I have a 21 month old who bites, not out of frustration, but when he is excited. We will be playing or tickling and he'll turn and try to take a chunk out of me! I have tried then to remove him (put him down, end the play) but it really doesn't seem to bother him. He'll just run off and find something else to do. It is frustrating, because it is more with me than my husband, and sometimes can be hitting as well. He doesn't seem to even have an inkling to do it when he plays with other children...just his mom!


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Susan, I can imagine. I've known children who live in situations along the lines of what your son went through, and I know their "nervous habits" go beyond, and/or deeper than, the routine stuff addressed here.


susanlang profile image

susanlang 6 years ago

Good read Lisa...but this is nothing like the fingernail and skin chewing problem my son had to endure at the fate of his father. Good read in any case.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

mags, this is only my opinion, but I think a two-year-old is kind of young for "official" time-outs; and I think he's too young yet to really understand the whole concept of apologizing (at least from his viewpoint). I guess my suggestion above (which is a simple, firm, and non-dramatic, "No. We're not having biting," and then taking him away from the situation is sort of like a time-out. I guess the difference is that I think he's still too little to really understand "all the stuff included" with an official time-out.

I think if I were in that situation I'd either say to other parents, "He's going through this biting thing now. I know it's a normal phase, and I'm doing what I can to try to help him understand he shouldn't bite; but until he gets past this stage I don't know if you want them playing together. I'll understand if you don't. I do know he bites when your 'so-and-so' takes something away from him; so I know it would help if you could explain to her that he needs to learn not to bite; but, for now, he gets upset if she takes something from him."

If you can't talk to the other parents; you could also try heading off an attempted biting, picking him up, but before moving him to another area say to the little girl nicely, "I'm sorry he does that, and he needs to learn to not to; but right now it makes him upset if you try to take away what he has. You're both little, and he needs to learn not to bite; but it would be good if you could ask me if he has something that you want."

I don't know what the other parent wants you to do, since you said you put him in time-out - hit him? Yell at him? That isn't right. The problem is there are two two-year-olds, and children that young can't play well together for too long before one takes something from the other. Parents of children that young need to understand that this stuff happens when two two-year-olds are together.

Since I'm not entirely sure what the "set-up" when you're outside the nursery, I'm not sure my suggestion will be useful (and maybe you've already done this anyway); but I think you should calmly talk to her when there isn't "an incident", say the things above, and ask her if the two of you can work together by having her agree to intervene sooner if she sees her child going for something he has; while you agree to try to intervene sooner if you see "an incident" in the making. I know there's not much time when one child grabs what another has, and the other bites in an instant; but sometimes there's just enough time to see a problem starting to flare up. If nothing else, talking with her lets her know you don't like that he bites, points out that it's his age, but also points out that he wouldn't bite if her child weren't taking what he has. You could give her the "out" of saying she thinks they shouldn't play together for now; but I'm guessing if there's only the two of them there it's unlikely they won't gravitate toward each other. Still, talking when there isn't an incident that's just taken place may ease some of the tension that an incident can bring on.

I don't think it's helping her learning anything if you make him give it up; so that's something you may want to mention to the other parent too. She shouldn't be rewarded for grabbing by getting what she wants.

I guess my suggestion is (if you can talk with the other parent) to treat the two different things (biting and taking) as two separate things that each child is still too little to be "cooler" about. Both of those behaviors are things a lot of two-year-olds do, the same way a lot of them have tantrums or aren't yet toilet trained. It shouldn't be "a big emotional thing" when an incident happens. I'm guessing why you get emotional is you see that the other child takes the thing, and then he "looks like the bad guy" (even if a very little "bad guy" :) ).

Something else you may want to do (if you sense "an issue" coming on or in progress), is say to the two children, "If you aren't playing nicely you have to separate. Pick up your child (and if he still has the toy, let him keep it), and move him somewhere else. That way nobody is focusing on who took what, or who was about to bite whom - only the fact that they weren't getting along. When my kids would start to squabble I'd tell them to separate. It worked (although they were older), because they knew they either had to "be friends" again or else separate. Most of the time they wanted to keep playing, so they'd "be friends". If they were happy to separate that meant it was time anyway. If nothing else, they learned that when bad behavior started it wasn't going to continue. Maybe you and the other parent could agree to something like that.

I wish I could be more helpful, but two two-year-olds playing together is going to be tricky a lot of the time.


mags 6 years ago

My 2 year old isn’t talking well yet and classically bites when he is frustrated. To be honest he has bitten off and on for the last 9 months. When he was younger it seemed to be to do with teething. He stops for a month or 2 then starts again.

He has started again recently and he is getting his last molars at the moment.

I’m sure he will grow out of it as long as we remain consistent, but my problem is more with the reaction of one other parent.

Their child and my son go to the same nursery and I know from the nursery that my son behaves well around her when there. However, when they are together outside nursery my son will bite her when she takes things off him. Both parents are always there. I take him away from the situation and do time outs and then make him apologise. However the other parent thinks this isn't enough and basically criticises my parenting telling me what she would do.

I become tense and upset by it every time it happens and therefore never defend my son. I should explain what I mean. Rather than stopping her from taking things from him and saying let G play with it, or let him give it back to the lady, I try to get him to give the toy up. I suspect this makes him feel unsupported.

It happened today and it was all I could do to not cry in front of everyone. I am pretty sure that my emotions can’t be helping things. My son isn’t talking very much but the other parent’s daughter is. It has got to the point where she now telling tales and fakes upset even if my son hasn’t done anything. How can I stop the situation escalating whilst still stopping my son from biting?


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

victoria, I'm not sure I can help; because my instinct tells me it's your little girl's age and that she may be closer to three before she gets through it. As far as "understanding it's wrong" goes, she probably does understand that you don't like it; but she's still pretty young when it comes to really being able to grasp all the concepts associated with truly understanding something is wrong. I can't guess what goes on in the mind of a two-year-old who bites, but sometimes little kids do things that have a really simple "reason" (if you can call it "reason"). A little kid who is playing nicely may just get tired and "decide" (maybe not out of a conscious decision but out of a "bad mood" kind of thing) to change the course of events (by biting). Two-year-olds have short attention spans. If things get too "old" they're likely to "do something else that's new". At this point, she may have learned that's a good way to end playing when she's sick of it. If that kind of thing is behind her biting it probably isn't that she's got some "whole plan" figured out in her head. Two-year-olds haven't yet become "polished" when it comes to understanding their own emotions or tiredness. They're impulsive on top of that.

Another guess (and it's nothing but a guess) is the children could appear to be placing happily, but something could be going on that bugs her. For example, it may bother her that the other child has had a toy for a while, or that the other child has just been too close for too long; and maybe, again, biting is what she knows works.

Older preschoolers get to a stage where they absolutely love being with another child and playing. Two-year-olds, by nature, aren't all that geared to playing with other children. They may be entertained by another child for awhile (especially an older one), but then they just tire of it (either because they get plain, old, tired or because they're attention span is short or because it goes against their two-year-old nature to have someone doing something that isn't necessarily what they want being done).

You shouldn't be embarrassed by her behavior, because she does what a lot of young children that age do. I think if it were my child I'd talk to her (not in the heat of the moment) about "being a nice friend" and about how children who bite other children don't seem to be ready to want to play with other friends. I'd ask why she bites (again, just in "regular conversation", and see what she says). I'd tell her since it seems like she isn't happy to be playing with other children "we'd" try not to be having other children around very often. Such a conversation may not "work like magic", but over time she may get the message and kind of process it. She probably isn't capable of recognizing and expressing something like, "I just get sick of being there and bite." You could add in this "calm conversation", something like, "You know, if you start to feel like you don't like playing any more you can come to me, and we'll think up something else for you to do." When she's about to start playing you could remind her, "Remember - if you get tired and don't feel like playing come to me and we'll think up something else for you to do." This might give her an alternative when it comes to feeling sick of what's doing and maybe needing some attention from you, the person who will be more focused on her needs than her little playmate is.

Talking calmly (but in a tone that suggests you're the one who is in charge but who wants to "share" how to do things because you "know she's interested") may not work immediately, but eventually little kids do process what they've heard.

If it were my child, I'd also probably limit how long she played with another child before asking, "Want to get a snack now?" (or something like that). In other words, I'd aim to end the play before she has the time to get bored/tired, aggravated and resort to ending it her way.

If she does bite someone I wouldn't do a whole big "song and dance" about it. If you're embarrassed by the biting you may feel inclined to lean toward the "song and dance" as a way to make sure other people know how bad you feel about the biting. (I'm not playing psychoanalyst here and not assuming this is what you do - but I've seen mothers do it, so I'm guessing maybe you do.) I think I'd calmly and with as little "reaction" as possible, pick up my child and say to the other child and parent, "I'm sorry. I'll talk to you more about this in a minute after I talk to her." Without saying anything to my own child I'd pick her up, go to another room, and sit in her a chair. I'd say something (in an "announcing" tone), "We not having biting." What would happen from there (a temper tantrum, nothing, her wanting to return to play, etc.) could be anything; but the one thing I wouldn't have would be her returning to play (at least not without being kept away for long enough to make her regret having bitten and being kept away from going back). If it wasn't clear where the next move from sitting her in a chair (just a regular chair, no "naughty chair" or anything like that; she's still little) I'd just try to distract her from the whole "incident" by suggesting something else she play alone (or if it's near a mealtime, suggesting that).

The way I see it, if you go a big "nicey-nice", syrup-y, song and dance, she gets to be entertained by all the attention. If you smack or scold her angrily, she gets to see an example of how "if you don't like what someone does you show aggression". If, by any chance, she has bitten out of feeling tired and bored, an additional message she'll get (by being hit or scolded too angrily) will be that you haven't sensed her "misery" that led up to biting, and children always need to know their parents know how to handle things like "misery".

The simple act of picking her up and moving her (without a lot of talk, scolding, etc.) will show her you're in charge without drama. Once you've moved her away from the "scene of the crime" you briefly and calmly address why she was removed; but then calmly "work away" from the subject and help everyone move on and not give the biting incident more "airtime" than it ought to have.

I don't know if any of these thoughts will help (and, as with other two-year-olds, she'll most likely outgrow it eventually no matter what you do); but I thought it was worth offering whatever thoughts I have (right, wrong, or otherwise) in case it helps even a little.

By the way, if I had the child who bit another child; after the situation was resolved with my own child; I'd simply and calmly say to the other child, "I'm sorry she did that. She doesn't know any better right now." I wouldn't make more drama than that over it, but the biting child would get to see that his mother's warmth and attention went to "victim"; and he'd also hear "doesn't know any better right now", which would let him know his mother understood his "bad actions".

Good luck. Hang in there. One way or another she'll get grow out of it. In the meantime, don't be embarrassed by it. It's a rare "other mother" who doesn't understand that two-year-olds sometimes bite (and do any number of other unpleasant things). If you want to make sure the other parent doesn't interpret your "cool, non-dramatic" response as "indifference" you can always calmly say, "I'm sorry. She's going through this thing now, and I know it's her age. I'm doing everything I can to try to get her out of it. I feel awful about it, but I don't want her to learn that it gets her a lot of attention and drama."


victoria 6 years ago

Please help! I have a 27 month old. She never bites at home, but when she gets around another child, she bites them. I have tried EVERYTHING. This has went on for almost 8 months, and it is getting to be almost embarrassing when she does this. She is very intelligient and can talk in sentences, so I know she understands that it is wrong. The biting happens out of the blue, usually while playing nicely. Any advice?


Creaminizer23 profile image

Creaminizer23 6 years ago from New York, Usa

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how to keep the children from nail biting. I am glad to inform you that your hub is included in my list of the most child friendly hubs across the hubpages.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Jaclyn, wow. I'm getting aggravated your behalf just by reading your situation. I agree with you. They're failing to protect your child (or any other child) from the biter, even if the biter is as young as she is. I don't think that parents talking to a child that young is going to do much; and whether or not the diretor and teacher feel bad, I don't think that cuts it. (I'm sorry if they have a bunch of kids to be watching. They need to keep a better eye on a little one who bites.

I wish I were in a position to be able to offer you suggestions about what you can do, but I'm not. Do they, by any chance, have a section/group of younger toddlers he could be in with instead of older ones? This may be unfair of me, since I don't know these people; but, to me, if they're running a school and if they think talking to a child that young will stop the biting, I don't think they understand child development very well (or else they do, and they're just not willing to do what they really need to do, which is watch the little kids better than they do now).

I think if he were my eighteen-month-old I'd talk seriously (and politely) to them and say I wasn't going to tolerate his being bitten any more, at all. I'd ask if they could make sure he's in a different group, or what they proposed doing to make sure the children were better supervised. My own concern would be whether or not the director is professional and caring enough not to take out any subtle irritations on my child; but, to me, someone should point out to them that state laws usually say how many children can be supervised by one adult at any one time. To me, one capable adult should be able to watch a handful of toddlers and keep them far enough from each other that there wasn't time for one to get close enough to bite.

This isn't much of an answer, but the thought occurs to me (besides the above thoughts) that if the temperature in the preschool would allow, dressing your son in something like overalls and long/thick, sleeves might offer a little protection. (A big place toddlers aim to bit is often another child's back or arm.)

Schools often a tendency to be very laid back about things when one child is doing is "just what a lot of kids that age do". That's true. The little girl isn't doing anything all that unusual for a child her age, but your eighteen-month-old shouldn't take the brunt of her developmental stage or frustration. If she no longer bites the other children, can't they make sure she plays around them and not your son? Eighteen-month-old children aren't mature enough to "know what hit them" when a slightly older child does something like that.

I wish I could offer something more helpful here; but if it helps at all or matters at all, I don't think you're wrong. That kind of stuff happens when a bunch of toddlers are together, but I agree that they should do a better job of supervising/protecting any of the children in their care.


Jaclyn 6 years ago

My child is almost 18 months old and is being bit (as in leaving marks on him) by a child that is a few months older than him at his school. The teachers state in every situation that my son is doing nothing to provoke the biting. She will literally just walk over to my son and bite him. She used to bite other children who were older than my son and no longer does because they would retaliate. My son doesn't. They talk to her about this. They remove her from the situation. They are even in regular dialogue with her parents and a behavior analyst about her. Bottom line... things happen and children are children, but my child is being singled out, and I'm beyond frustrated. This has probably happened 10 times in the past 2 1/2 weeks. The teachers and director feel terrible about the situation and even suspended her for a day last week because of this. But she bit him again today. Can I do anything besides pull my child from this school? Its to the point where I feel they are failing to protect my child. Am I wrong? Please, don't tell me I just have to deal with my child being bit everyday.


Lisa Pearce 6 years ago

We've had words with them both and the youngest one said its not for attention, he wants to really stop the older one but he sometimes won't stop, so you were spot on, I was just worrying that there was something more serious underlying, but yes, it just kids being kids, but your advice has helped us bring it out into the open and discuss it, and know where to start and what to say. Thank you.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Lisa. thanks for the feedback. One of the "famous" lines mothers are known for saying is, "Stop now before someone gets hurt." (and, of course, kids never "stop now" and someone always does end up getting hurt.) LOL. If any of the thoughts I offered seemed at all to apply, great. One of the good things about the Internet is that is offers a "hangout" for mothers to share ideas and concerns, I guess the same way my mother's generation used to talk over backyard fences or coffee.


Lisa Pearce 6 years ago

Thank you so much for replying and such a detailed reply, its made me feel so much better because I was really beginning to think we had a real 'problem,' they are such happy kids most of the time its just when things get heated that is sometimes what he resorts to and I think you are absolutely right. We will definitely act on your advice. Thank you.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Lisa, I'm comfortable enough with what works with toddlers to feel comfortable offering thoughts stopping them from biting. In a situation with an older child involved I'm not very careful in offering ideas here because, as you suggested, that's different from the "usual" toddler-biting, (and I don't have the expertise to offer too much on your situation). So, speaking as only a mother of two grown sons and a daughter and as someone who has been around a lot of other kids your sons' ages, something strikes me about the biting situation you mentioned. In other words, this is only another mother's opinion and guess that I'm about to offer. :)

I'm not defending the biting in this situation, by any means, but older siblings are "big" for taking a little advantage of their size or the "smarts" that come with being a little older when it comes to interaction/play with younger ones. I don't think your younger son knows what else to do to get free of his brother. He may either feel like he's "smothering" or being hurt; or it could just be the "mental discomfort" of being overpowered by a "rival" (even in play). Kids in the middle years are learning/figuring out the ways to deal with situations like winning and losing and defending themselves. They may know they're "only playing", and they may think there's no point in expecting adults to intervene. (After all, they're also given the message, "You need to know how to work out problems you have with other kids yourself.) Even if it's "kids' stuff", nobody likes being the "defeated" one, and I'm guessing if your son is doing the usual punching at his brother to make him move, and if his brother isn't bothered by it, your son has figured out that the only thing that works is to bite him. There's the chance that your younger son has come to figure out that biting is a way to let his brother know he's had enough and "isn't fooling around any more." As a seven-year-old, he may even know that there are ways he could "really hurt" his brother, but he may go with the biting because it works without hurting the way some more "serious" defensive tactics would work in, say, a "real-life" attack situation (as opposed to a play/fooling around situation).

In other words I think your older son doesn't know when it's time to stop, and his little brother probably lives with feeling overpowered for a little while, while it's still sort of fun, but then he wants things to stop and doesn't know how to get his brother to pay attention to his wishes. Ten-year-old boys in midst of "horseplay", and in the midst of the "fun" of "winning" with a younger sibling aren't known for being sensible enough (at least in the moment) to respect the wishes of the younger sibling. I'm not saying biting is an acceptable way to send a message, but I think your younger buy may just not know what else to do. If you imagine telling him something like, "I don't care what's going on. Do not ever, ever, bit to stop him from overpowering you because you don't like it anymore," you can imagine how that would be expecting him to just take feeling overpowered and helpless without defending himself. That's a little too much to expect of anyone, even a child in a play situation. Yes, biting is wrong; but most of us remember how bad it can feel to have another kid refuse to "knock it off" when we want them to.

It seems to me that if you know your son doesn't generally go around biting other kids, and if the only time he does it is when he's in this "wrestling" situation with his brother and feeling overpowered, he's essentially being "driven" to behavior he wouldn't otherwise engage in.

If they were my sons I'd get the two of them together in an unheated moment and talk to them about what's going on. First I'd talk to the older one and say something along the lines of: "Look, we have to do something to stop what's going on with your brother biting, because I'm not having it, and I don't want you being bitten. He knows biting is wrong, but right now he's not mature enough or big enough to be able to deal with it when you won't stop the "wrestling". So, I can either make a rule that the two of you won't be play wrestling ever; and you can play other kinds of stuff; or else, if you and he like playing that way, you can decide that if he wants to stop you'll just stop. If you're grown up enough to be able to understand that he's young than you are, and be able to stop when he says so, then fine. You tell me whether you're grown up enough to do that, or whether it would just be a better idea for us to have no "wrestling kind of play" at all; and you just play other stuff." Chances are he'll think about it for a couple of seconds and say he doesn't want any rule about no wrestling-kind-of play. He probably tell you that he will stop when his little brother says stop. Letting him know that "the next move will be a rule about no wrestling-kind of play might be enough to make him take his promise to stop a little more seriously.

To the seven-year-old, I'd say, right in front of his brother, we all know this biting thing isn't acceptable; but I understand that you're not grown-up enough to be able to 'wrestle play' with your brother without letting things get out of control. So, would you like me to make a rule that the two of you can never 'wrestle-kind-of-play', or are you grown up enough to play that way without feeling so out-of-control you feel like you have to bite? Depending on "how bad" things feel to be him, he may say he'd like a no-wrestling rule; or else he may say he enjoys playing but only wants his brother to stop when he says stop.

There's a good chance both boys will be in favor of no rule about stopping wrestling play, and both will acknowledge that it's fun for both of them most of the time. The younger one is likely to appreciate feeling that you understand. The older one will see his own responsibility/role in the situation. He'll still feel a parent is protecting him from being bitten, but the message will be (to both of them) that biting is unacceptable but is the behavior of a younger, less grown-up, child who feels out-of-control enough to resort to biting. By talking to both about either making a non-wrestle-play rule or else expecting the older one to stick with his new promise to stop when his brother says stop, both boys will see you mean business about doing whatever it takes to stop the biting situation. The message remains that biting is a serious thing and is not the behavior of someone "grown-up" or big enough not to feel that helpless in a situation.

Another option would be to agree with both boys that if wrestling-type play isn't going to banned then the littler boy should let you know if his brother won't get off him, and you'll do something about it. Doing something like that would eliminate the younger brother's feeling of not knowing what else he can do, and it would be a "public" acknolwedgement that the older brother, once again, refused to stop when his brother asked him to. I know it seems like I'm blaming the older brother here, but ten-year-olds, like seven-year-olds, are also young kids and immature and likely to do unacceptable things like take advantage of younger sibling (so I'm not seeing he's "bad" any more than I think the littler one is "bad"; they're both just being kids). Sometimes, though, even if an older kid is just being a kid, it doesn't make it any easier for a younger sibling who lives with being "tormented" by an older one regularly. I think (and again, obviously it's only one person's personal opinion) the biting matter should be addressed as a problem between the two brothers and within the home situation, but not as if there's something "wrong" with the littler guy. I was five years older than my little brother, and from the time he was two years old he would tease and tease me seemingly non-stop. Because I knew I was bigger I would never do anything, but one day I got so absolutely frustrated with being constantly harrassed I, in my own immature, eight-year-old, way, hauled off and smacked him on the back. My mother was horrified


Lisa Pearce 6 years ago

We have two boys, one aged nearly 10 and one aged nearly 7. The younger one has been biting his older brother for a while now, when they fight and argue sometimes not always he bits him, he says its to really hurt him, the older one has been known to laugh or antagonise him but won't bite him back, he also sometimes has been lying on him and its to get him off. We have tried putting him in his room, taking treats, toys away from him, talking to him, asking him why he bites. I have threatened getting professional help if he did it again and after he has cried and said he is sorry said he wouldn't do it again, he did tonight. He is tired at the moment but it still isn't acceptable.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Marcia, my guess is here just that - a guess; but for what it's worth, I'll take a blind stab at it...

It strikes me that biting for a one-year-old is very common. Toddlers that age are pretty young, and I tend to think a little too young for them to "get" (the concept) of time-out. Usually, with a one-year-old a mother has to interrupt the process if she's biting coming; or else firmly say, "no", each time the baby gets even close to biting.

At one, the "training" has to be simple, because they're still too young to understand a lot of "more advanced" concepts (like "wrong"). In other words, I don't think he was able to learn not to bite because he couldn't understand your explanations, and maybe you weren't "firm sounding" enough (in your tone and with quick, no-nonsense, action and nothing extra) a year ago.

This guess is purely an "out-of-the-sky" kind of guess; but I'm wondering if time, and the way you've handled the situation has almost made him see biting as a game that results in a whole set of things from you that amount to attention. He's got the book about biting, and he gets conversation from you about a biting. Then there's the whole "cuddle procedure" and yet more attention when you tell him to say he's sorry to his friend.

There's the possibility you're making the very fuss you don't want to make, but you're making a "pleasant enough fuss" that he could see it as a kind of game. If it were my two-year-old I'd tell him ahead of time (immediately before playing with any other child), "If you bite so-and-so you can't play with him any more." I'd watch for signs that he was headed for a bite. Whether or not I got to him in time to prevent it, I'd squat down, look him in the eye, and very firmly say, "We're not having biting."

I'd use a firm, kind of low and "emotion-less" voice. Then I'd immediately take him by the hand and lead him away to another part of the house. If he didn't kick and scream I'd give him a toy to play with by himself (maybe where I could watch him but where he wasn't near the other child). If he did kick and scream (which most two-year-old would) I'd let him kick and scream in the other area until he either stopped on his own or until he had gone on long enough having his tantrum and saying he wanted to play with the other child.

If he stopped on his own and asked if he could go back and play I'd tell him he could, but if he "dared" bite again I was going to take him away and not let him return the next time. If he had a tantrum for five minutes or so and kept saying he wanted to go back I'd tell him the same thing. A two-year-old in a tantrum is upset and only thinking about what he wants to do. Letting him go back after he's been taken away and upset for a little while will make him feel happy to know he's getting to go back, and the discomfort of being so upset should be enough to teach him what will happen if he bites again.

I wouldn't call attention to the biting issue any time other than right before he started playing or if he started to bite. To me, talking too much about it sends the message that it's "an issue that goes on", rather than "this isn't something that people do, and you can't do it either".

In general, most two-year-olds aren't big for cuddling their playmates, so there's a chance he's just a little "younger" in that particular area. If that's the case it could be one reason he hasn't yet outgrown biting. The other side to that coin is that he could be a little "sharper" than most two-year-olds are in that area, and he could actually be kind of "planning to trick" his playmate by pretending to want to cuddle and then biting. He might think it's funny (in his own, two-year-old, way). If he has gotten the message that biting "isn't all that serious" he might just think it's more "rough-and-tumble" play. Since he's been told to cuddle a friend after he bites, he may even be confused and have come to associate biting and cuddling as "a relatively harmless thing" that's a part of playing and/or interacting.

Again, just guessing, but I think he does need your swift attention when he tries to bite; but it should be negative attention that he doesn't enjoy. He should see in your eyes and hear in your calm, low, firm, voice that you absolutely don't approve of what he's done, and you are not going to tolerate it. All the rest of the time you can be your usual, nice, friendly, loving, self; and these isolated incidents when you make it clear you disapprove should send the message to him that biting is unacceptable.

Between his getting the message and stopping, and/or his getting a little older and outgrowing it, you probably won't have to do this kind of thing too many times or for too long. It won't mean a whole childhood of you treating him "coldly" if he messes up in a way that doesn't involve his being aggressive. It just means using this simple approach now, while he's two or so, and so young explanations and reasons in a nice voice may not be what he can understand/process in a more mature way. Something simple, like "We're not having biting. Biting hurts people," is usually enough. In fact, depending on his language skills, being clear and firm before he starts playing with someone may be enough (or at least enough for a while or until he's frustrated by the other child).

I can't guarantee that this approach will work, but it's how I'd handle it if I had a two-year-old who bites. Just so you know, I wasn't "some tough disciplinarian" with my own three kids. I was "nice" and "reasonable" on all issues, even matters of behavior, other than aggression. That was the one thing about which I sent the message (from the time they were two on up), "We aren't having hurting people. I don't hurt you. I won't let anyone hurt you. You will not hurt anyone else. When I see aggression I'm not my usual, warm, friendly, self. I'm all business." To me, all other "misdeeds" were "negotiable" or "conversation-worthy". Aggression wasn't, and I wanted them to know that.

Your little guy is still not much more than a baby, and language skills vary a lot for children that age. He may or may not understand explanations; but even if he does understand up to a point, all two-year-olds have two-year-olds' emotional immaturity to complicate things. The combination of your "unfriendly" eyes, no-nonsense and firm tone, and quick removal of him from "the scene of the crime" are simple enough for him to understand.

Again, I'm just guessing at ways you could do things differently. Ordinarily, this kind of things works pretty well.


Marcia Wade 6 years ago

Hi,

I have a two year old son that started biting when he was about one year old. Every time he bites I explain he should not hurt other people and also put him in a time out chair for two minutes. Then I tell him to cuddle and say sorry to his friend. He also has a book about biting explaining why it is wrong to bite. I try not to make a fuss of it, so that he does not use it as a way to get attention. However, what I don’t understand is that sometimes he bites when he is playing nicely! He likes to cuddle his little friends and often grabs hold of them to cuddle and sometimes bite. Or there was one occasion he was rolling with a friend on the floor and bit his arm.

I think my technique is not working as he has been biting for over a year now. I don’t know what else to do and I find it quite upsetting.


meteoboy profile image

meteoboy 6 years ago from GREECE

My daughter is 18 months old and she starts bitting. I will follow your instructions. Thank you for these useful informations.Pretty good hub for the parents and not only.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts Author

todaysmotherhood, thanks. A lot of little folks do just grow out of it. Some who are two and over have a "different thing going on" than younger toddlers.


todaysmotherhood 7 years ago

My son used to like to bite too and luckily, he outgrown it by himself.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts Author

James, good luck. Worst case, if it doesn't work he'll eventually grow out of it on his own. :)


James Ginn profile image

James Ginn 7 years ago from Ohio

I have a two year old biter. I will put your article to work immediately. Thank you.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts Author

Devon, I don't feel qualified to offer my own guesses about your nephew, because the behavior you describe is different from the usual, immediate, biting-out-frustration that younger children often do when playing near other young children.

Keeping in mind that I'm just "stabbing in the dark", I do know that little kids can get "wound up" (often if they have parents who kind of encourage "wound up" behavior).  Children who live with other, slightly older, children can "learn" aggression too.  Children who lack social skills often don't really know the appropriate way to engage others.  Then, too, there are children who need a little more one-on-one, positive, attention.

Screaming because he wants his own way is pretty normal for a lot of three-year-olds.

My personal advice would be (if this isn't happening already) that his mother spend a lot of time talking to him (in pleasant conversation, not lecturing or scolding) and talking about "how to be a nice friend" or "why nice boys don't hurt other children".  Talking about what's the right behavior just in pleasant conversation will get through to children.  Three-year-olds in particular love being just with their mother or father and talking about everything.  It can seem as if they've reached a stage of being a "child" rather than a "toddler", and they seem to crave talk about "all of life" as a way of learning what they need to learn.  At four they start to "move outward" some from just their parent(s), but three-year-olds seem to crave and thrive on that individual, nice, attention.

There's at least the possibility that he's learned that biting getting "everyone" all upset.  Maybe he needs more individual attention.  There's also the chance he could use some more structured play (like building with blocks, coloring, playing with clay, etc.) because that kind of play can make a child have a sense of satisfaction about himself.  Sometimes if children are just kind of left to "run around without direction" they get feel kind of "at loose ends" and frazzled.

The two links below are to good information about aggression in young children.  (I love Zero to Three.  They have lots of good information about everything.)

http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/preschoolaged/a...


Devon 7 years ago

Well my nephew is 3 years old & he bites the kids for no reason, he will walk by them & bite & leave a huge mark that here lately almost breaks the skin, then when you set him from time out he screams so loud it hurts everyones ears. Any advice? My email is eeyore_7897@yahoo.com. Thanks!


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts Author

kak, thanks for commenting. If he's a little guy it's something a lot of them do.


kak 7 years ago

Thank u very much, my son bits his classmates, and although I explain him not to do it, he still does it. I was wondering if it was time to a phsycologist visit. But instead I will pay more attention, try to help him express his feelings and be patient, hoping he does not bit again.

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