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How to Handle Biting in Young Children

This is a great gust post by Families First. Families First, a Colorado nonprofit founded in 1986, serves a dual purpose – providing support services for families to prevent child abuse and neglect, and offering residential treatment for young, abused children. Through its proactive parent education classes and outreach, free statewide support line (1-800-CHILDREN), and residential treatment center for children ages 3-10, Families First aims to create a community where all children are safe and cared for. To learn more, visit www.familiesfirstcolorado.org.

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Biting is a behavior that many toddlers display at one time or another. It can be something that makes parents feel frustrated and helpless, but there is hope!  

Whenever a child is having a behavioral issue, adults should start by increasing positive interactions with the child, such as catching them being good and increasing affection and praise. Often times, this will be all that is needed to decrease the negative behaviors.

If the biting continues to be an issue, the next step is to try to prevent the biting. Give the child a teething toy that can be used to bite on when needed. Also be sure to increase adult supervision when the child is around other children.  Do not keep the child from interacting with other children, but make sure the adult is close and can help with the interactions.

So, what can you do when a child does bite someone else? 

  1. The child who was hurt gets the attention. Make a big deal about their owwie, hug them, give them an ice pack, or wash the hurt body part. The child that was aggressive should be kept in eyesight so that they are not going off and hurting another child, family pet, or even themself.
  2. Once the above is completed, the adult should take the child who was aggressive gently but firmly by the hand and remove them from the situation.  One brief statement such as “teeth are not for biting” and then no other words or attention should be given to the child. The adult should use a firm voice, but not yell or raise their voice.
  3. The child should be away from everyone else for a minute or two, but in eyesight of an adult. 
  4. Once the child is calm, the adult will give them a hug or pat. 
  5. As soon as the child who was hurt is ready and the child who was aggressive is being safe, and adult should help the two make-up. 

For more advice on aggressive behaviors in children of all ages, ways to support your family, and other parenting tips from Families First, visit www.familiesfirstcolorado.org or call their Family Support Line at 1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373) or 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. 

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