Biting Toddler
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Biting Toddler

Jan Faull, M. Ed, answers a parent's question about a toddler who won't stop biting other children.

Q. My 3-year-old just bit another boy in his preschool. This is the third time! I'm afraid he is going to be kicked out of day care. What can I do to stop the biting; I've already tried to talk to him about it.

A. For children between the ages of 18 months and 2 and 1/2 years, biting -- although disconcerting and hurtful ­­ is typical. It's a negative developmental characteristic that young children exhibit. Thankfully, with persistent monitoring by parents and caregivers, most grow out it by age three.

Unfortunately, your child continues to bite, therefore both you and his preschool teacher need to develop a consistent plan to combat the biting. Before proceeding, ask yourself, "Why is he biting?"

Is he receiving lots of attention for biting? If so, find opportunities for him to receive attention in positive ways so he won't need to acquire attention for biting.

Is he socially immature? For some preschool­aged children group care overwhelms and frustrates them. If this situation is the case with your son, he may need a child care situation where there's a smaller group of children and, therefore, fewer social frustrations. He may simply need a little more time to mature socially. A break from a large group of children may help him gain social skills more easily acquired when playing with only one or two children at a time.

Is it a habit? Young children can easily slip into the habit of displaying certain hurtful behaviors. This may be the situation with your son. In order to break the habit he needs three forms of guidance: First, when he bites, he needs time in a quiet spot with no attention from child care providers or the other children. Generally speaking, when a biting incident occurs, one caregiver needs to attend to the bitten child while the other attends to the biter. Without looking the biter in the eye, (making eye contact unfortunately reinforces the hurtful behavior) the caregiver needs to say in a stern voice, "That's biting, it is not allowed" as she escorts the child to an isolated area. The child should receive nothing from biting, particularly attention. This mild and temporary form of shunning usually quickly ends a child repeating the hurtful behavior.

Second, a caregiver needs to shadow your son in order to step in and prevent a biting incident from occurring. A skillful caregiver can divert a biting incident by intervening when frustrations arise and guiding the child in a way that's positive.

Third, he needs coaching from caregivers at preschool and parents at home to acquire positive skills for how to behave in social situations. Caregivers and parents can demonstrate and help him practice using words which in time will replace the biting behavior he now exhibits.