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The Dilemma of the Biter

By Becky Freeman

I was outraged. When I picked up my child from the nursery, the workers had the sad duty of telling me he'd bitten my sweet little boy! Sure enough, the evidence tiny rows of reddened teeth marks -- semi-circled my child's arm.

Two years later, I was horrified again. But this time it was one of my children who had bitten a playmate when my back was turned for a few brief moments.

Having been the mother of a child who was bitten, and the mother of a child who bit I can say, with all sincerity, that it is the mother of the aggressive child who hurts the most. What has she done wrong? How could she have prevented this? How could this little one, so precious in her arms, injure another child in such a primitive way!

First, all mothers need to know that many young children go through a biting stage. In fact, it is extremely common and does not by itself predict later emotional or social problems.

Why Kids Bite

Brenda Nixon writes, Sometimes a your toddler bites not to be aggressive or hostile, but to ease the pain of teething. Or he bites for sensory exploration an educator's term for putting stuff in his mouth to learn about it. The mouth is a powerful information organ, and I've seen kids bite chairs, plants, even the dog. The simple remedy is to give your tot soothing, slobber- resistant chew toys. Teething rings, a wet washcloths, or a Popsicle are save ways of relieving aching gums as well as satisfying that urge to see what its like.

Also, child experts remind us that children are limited at this age in expression.

When they get over-excited or angry or jealousy or even especially happy they sometimes get the urge to bite something, or someone, as a form of communication. Of course, we have to help them stop the behavior, it cannot continue. But it helps to understand that they are acting out of frustration or curiosity, not overt evil or desire to hurt. Also, biting is rarely premeditated. Children just act without thinking of consequences.

A new trend in teaching babies to use basic sign language may prove to be especially helpful with small children who need ways to communicate their needs before their language skills catch up.

What's a Parent to Do?

Respond swiftly and immediately firmly, hold their face around their jaw line, gently as you speak, and sternly tell the child, No! We can bite apples or bagels but we never bite people! See, it hurt our friend!”  If possible encourage the offender to help comfort the child that has been injured, wash any wound with soap and water, apply antibiotic and non-stick Telfa pads. When injured child is comfortable, turn your attention to the biter.  Acknowledge her feelings, "I know you are angry but.." and show her another way to release them. Maybe squeezing a squishy, stuffed animal, or biting a teething ring.

Keep Reading

In time, your toddler's ability to express herself in words will take the place of biting. A three year older can say, "That's mine!" but a two-year older may not be able to express herself, and resorts to biting to express herself. (This is when the ability to sign basic needs could be a real help.) 

Read the humorous book No Biting, Horrible Crocodile! By Johnathan Shipton to your children. The following reviews from two preschool teachers made me wish I'd had this resource when I was struggling to de-fang my own little biter. Biting is always an issue with young children and I found the story to be sensitive but unafraid of the subject matter and I found the illustrations to be interesting and soothing. My co-teacher and I shared many smiles over the realistic facial expressions of the children and the teacher. This book was a big hit with my class and they requested it over and over.

Our day care center had a problem with the young children biting. The teachers read this book to the kids every day and the problem disappeared. The kids really seemed to love the story line as well as understand the concept.

* Keep things in perspective. Though repulsive to parents, biting is a normal behavior for toddlers and young preschoolers. Usually the injury is minimal (albeit painful) and doesn't break the skin. The victim normally just needs a hug, the biter a swift and firm, No! Spanking the child has not been shown to be particularly effective. (Take it from this mother who tried it without success!) Some little ones stop biting behavior when allowed to have a pacifier or teething toy.

© Becky Freeman
Becky Freeman is an award-winning, best-selling author, national speaker and humor columnist, and radio/TV media personality. Among her many inspirational/true-life/humor books are fun titles like "Worms in My Tea: And Other Mixed Blessings" (nominated for a Gold Medallion), "Coffee Cup Friendship & Cheesecake Fun: Stories and Adventures Between Girlfriends", and many more. See her website at!


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