North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

What to do about biting


Dear Ms. Davis,

I have a two-year-old daughter. Yesterday, we were having a playdate with a friend and her son, who is almost 3. My daughter bit him while they were playing. I was so embarrassed ... she has done this a few times with us, and with other children, in the past several months. Should I be worried, and how should I handle it if it happens again.

Mom of a Biter

Dear Mom,

Biting is usually a temporary behavior in some children that often begins around the time of teething and stops at or around age 3. It is not a misbehavior in most cases, it is simply a lack of skills. Toddlers often do not have the ability to 'use their words', and cannot express themselves in acceptable ways when they are frustrated or angry. Some young children also bite as a way to explore. Children may also bite their parents, if parents have modeled 'pretend' biting – they think it's a game.

It's important not to punish or "show them how it feels" by hurting them. Hurting a child does not help them learn not to hurt others. We want to encourage them to learn the life skills that are necessary to handle conflict and strong feelings.

So, my suggestion would be to supervise closely. Intervene quickly when you can see that emotions are beginning to bubble up. Say something like 'It's not okay to bite people ... use your words'. You can also remove her from the situation by redirecting to a different toy, before she has a chance to bite. If your daughter is preverbal, after saying it's not ok to bite, offer a choice ... "would you like to sit with me for a minute, or play with the blocks?"

If your child bites before you can intervene, pay attention to what she might have been feeling ... "you must be mad" and then encourage her to notice the child she has hurt, ie. "look, Suzie is crying – what can we do to help her feel better?" This may seem counterintuitive, but what you will be modeling is compassion and helping. Your child can help administer an ice pack, or give a hug. Apologize to the other child's parent, if this happens again at a play date. Admit that you are embarrassed and that you are doing everything you can to help your child learn not to hurt others.

Lastly, at other times during the day, when spending time with your daughter, talk with her about the appropriate words to use when she is angry, sad or frustrated. You can also ask for her ideas about what else she could do, when she is upset. For preverbal children sometimes have a teething ring to bite, or a stuffed animal to hold, can be helpful.

Rest assured, as I said earlier, for most children biting is a temporary issue. As your daughter becomes more verbal and is able to express how she feels, the biting will likely go away.

Penny G. Davis, M.A

Respectful Relationships Consulting


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