During his preschool years, my younger brother would bite his brothers and sisters. He bit us when we wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Unfortunately for my parents, he also would bite the neighbor’s children, kids in the playground, and just about anyone when he didn’t get his own way.
In those days, a biter was considered a troubled child whose parents did not know how to control him. By the time he was three he had a reputation in our neighborhood. As he would approach the playground with my mother, other mother’s would grab their kids and move to a different play area.
My parents were mortified by his biting and at a loss to get him to stop. Our pediatrician was called into the situation and was also at a loss to know why this bright, friendly, otherwise likeable boy would resort to biting. All kinds of behavior modifiers were tried, including making his brothers and sisters bite him back. Nothing worked. Then, he stopped. Just a month before he started Pre-K…he stopped biting and he never bit anyone again!
The other day I came across an article by Dr. Som, a pediatrician, whose posts I’ve referenced in past blogs. My mother and father would have been so relieved to have read her article about preschoolers and biting.
So…for all of you who may be worried about a preschooler who bites here is an excerpt from Dr. Som’s post that will put preschool biting in perspective and hopefully put your minds at ease.
Biting is very natural and all children around the age of 12 months begin to experiment with biting Mom or Dad. Then they might try biting siblings or friends. The behavior peaks around 24 months and then declines. Three year old children rarely bite because they have gained social competence and the language skills to mediate frustration.
Please know that all children bite. No matter how you handle the behavior, your child will outgrow it by three years old. How you react may affect how quickly the behavior stops.
To nip it in the bud
- A simple, “biting hurts” will do. Nobody should be called bad. No shouting.
- Give affection and attention to the child that was bitten.
- Briefly ignore the biter. Time out may not be necessary as ignoring the child sends a clear message that biting is an antisocial behavior.
- Let the biter say sorry or hug the person he has hurt.
- Anticipate biting and offer distraction or offer words that the child can use instead.
- If the skin is broken, see your doctor about the need for antibiotics or a tetanus shot. Usually soap, lots of water, and maybe a cool compress are all you need.
- Choose a daycare with good staffing ratios, at least one adult to four children for toddlers. A quality provider engages the children, minimizes boredom, recognizes fatigue and understands that biting happens.
Biting is almost never a sign of abnormal development in an otherwise normal child.