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Biting Other Children

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: My one-year-old has been biting other children at the day care center. At home, she tries to bite out of excitement, never out of anger, but we stop her and matter-of-factly say, "no". I have read several magazines and books and have followed all their suggestions, including keeping her busy, providing something for her to chew on (cookies, crackers, teething ring -- cold or not), putting medication on her gums and correcting her on the spot. There are no other children in our household. I was informed today that if the problem continues she will have to be removed from the day care center for a week. I am in disagreement with the childcare staff on this issue. I am not sure this action will solve anything since there are no other children at home and she will be taken care of by an adult. She seems to exhibit this behavior more toward children. I have asked what kind of training the staff receives to deal with this problem. I was informed that they first attend the hurting child and then the biter. The attendant told me that she bites for no reason. Do you have any suggestions besides the ones mentioned?

A: Biting is very common among children in this age group. Toddlers and pre-schoolers bite for any number of reasons, including getting attention, being over-excited, and showing signs of affection. As you pointed out with your own child, it is not that she is angry, but more that she doesn't know how to control her emotions any differently. If this behavior does result in someone paying more attention, it most certainly will be repeated. If a child has experienced someone"nibbling at the ears," they'll mimic this behavior but not be able to control how hard they bite.

I sympathize with your concern about removing your child from the child care center for a week. That alone will not solve the biting issue. Your approach, however, does need to be consistent with that of her child care providers; otherwise it will not work. You must also make it clear to your child that biting is unacceptable. She needs to know that the biting cannot continue and you and the rest of the family and her caretakers must stick together. It might be more beneficial to establish what the source of the behavior is, and then try to limit those situations as much as possible. You can't laugh about it or ignore it. Biting her back so that she can see what it feels like or using physical punishment is not helpful. If the biting behavior continues, consider speaking with her pediatrician to make sure there is not a larger behavioral problem.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


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