I recently received a request for a post about how to stop a young child from biting. While not all children go through this phase, it is certainly a common struggle that many parents must deal with in the early years. Biting can happen for a variety of reasons. In very young children, around one year old, biting can simply be a response to sore gums due to teething. Encouraging the use of teethers or other safe alternatives is the best choice in this age group.
If the biting is occurring in a child from 1 ½ to 3 years old, however, it is a different matter altogether. Children in this age group commonly bite because they are over-stimulated or excited. Anger, frustration, or just having too much going on at one time could all be potential causes of biting behavior. Parents should begin by trying to identify what triggers the biting-when the child is mad because he didn't get his way, when other children arrive and the normally peaceful house gets a lot more hectic, etc. If certain obvious situations can be identified and avoided, or limited in some way, this is a good first step.
When a child bites, parents should immediately redirect the behavior in a clear, straightforward way. "No biting. You have to go to time out now because you bit him" or something similar should be used. The time out allows the child time to calm down and teaches them that biting has a negative consequence. If the child is old enough, discuss simple alternatives to biting after the time out is over. "When you want to bite, come tell mom instead" is one example. As children get older, parents should teach them how to express feelings with words and not by biting, hitting, or kicking.
Lastly, biting should never be dealt with by biting back, yelling, or spanking. Parents must remember to lead by example and these methods simply expose the child to more aggressive behaviors, which is what parents with a biting child should be trying to avoid. If biting does not diminish after parents use the above tips consistently for a period of 2-3 weeks, it might be time to enlist the help of a professional.