Child Biting - How to Stop a Child from Biting

Child Biting - Parenting Question and Answer

My 14 month old daughter will hit and bite another child if that child has anything my child wants. She will also hit adults when she becomes angry. How can I stop this behavior?

Child biting is common, but serious and must be attended to swiftly and consistently, so children learn it is not appropriate. In order to understanding biting in children, you need to know something about development. For instance, a baby may bite because she's teething and it feels good to bite down on something when gums are sore. Toddlers are in the oral stage and explore the world primarily through their mouths. This means they put things in their mouths that they shouldn't and it also means they sometimes bite. During the toddler years is when it is appropriate to teach a child that biting others is unacceptable.

Understand that child biting and hitting often occur because young children don't know how to express themselves verbally. They may bite to make contact with another child or to defend themselves when threatened. They may bite because they're frustrated, angry or overwhelmed or because they want something that isn't theirs.

As a parent, you can stop child biting by giving your child alternative means to make contact with others, to defend herself and to express her feelings, rather than acting out when she feels overwhelmed. This is how you begin to cultivate emotional intelligence in your child.

How to Stop a Child from Biting

Take each instance of child biting behavior and use it as an opportunity to teach your child that such behavior is not acceptable. For instance, if you see your child bite another child, rush over and say to the child, "Ouch! That must have hurt! Are you okay?" Your compassion for the child your child has bit will help your daughter start to have compassion for others and see how her behavior impacts them. If your daughter bites to get attention, she will also learn that biting others does not get her what she wants because at least initially, your attention is focused on the victim.

child biting

Take your daughter aside and say with a sad face, "You hurt your friend." State this as a fact, not as an accusation. You don't want to shame or belittle her for child biting behavior, you want her to start to see how her behavior hurts others.

Try to discover the need that drove your daughter's behavior. Was she tired, hungry, scared? Was she feeling ignored by her friend? Was she angry? Tease out and do your best to answer this need.

Ask your daughter how she thinks her friend feels. (If you have ever been the victim of child biting behavior, then you know firsthand how shocking this can be. When my eldest son was 14 months, he had a modeling job with another child. Before the photographer took the photos, he offered the toddlers something to eat. Being the sweet child my son was, rather than take something first for himself, he offered the girl a cracker and she bit him hard. He was absolutely stunned and cried like it was the end of the world and in that moment, it was because in exchange for his kindness and generosity, he received violence.) If your daughter can't identify her feelings yet (which is normal at this age), help her out. Offer feeling words like sad, scared or angry. Next, ask her what she can do to help her friend feel better. Maybe she can give her a hug (if the child will let her), say she's sorry or offer to share one of her toys.

Take each instance of child biting behavior and use it as an opportunity to teach.

Since your daughter seems to have difficulty sharing, teach her how by role playing. Buy her a new, inexpensive toy and show her how two people can share the same item by taking turns. Make your turn first. If she tries to grab the toy, tell her that she must wait until her turn or you cannot share the toy with her. After she's had her turn, suggest that next time she plays with a friend, she can share and wait when it's not her turn. If she wants to use something the other child has, she can offer to share something of hers. Of course, it is up to the other child to decide if sharing will occur. When she plays with other children, always make sure she has something to share.

After all is said and done, ask your child how she feels about making things better with her friend. If she can't answer and at 14 months, she probably won't be able to, emphasize how good it feels to make someone feel better when you have hurt them.

Again, your child will not understand most of this, but start the process of compassion-building now. By responding swiftly and compassionately, teasing out the need that drove the behavior and helping your child take responsibility for making amends, the biting behavior and hitting behavior will cease.

About the Author:

Laura Ramirez has a degree in psychology, is the author of a multiple award-winning book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting and is the mother of two boys. Her book uses ancient native ideas and heart-centered psychology to show parents how to cultivate emotional intelligence in children and how to raise them to develop their innate strengths so they will lead purposeful and fulfilling lives as adults. The book is a journey of self-discovery for child and parent.

Parenting Magazine

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