Very Bad Behavior

The Biter

Your kid's teacher called to let you know your daughter has sunk her teeth into a classmate's arm--again.

Who does it? Toddlers and preschoolers

What they're thinking Biting often stems from language difficulties. For kids, not being able to say what they feel (like anxiety or jealousy over a big change such as a new baby) is extremely frustrating, and that can lead to biting. While kids also vent through hitting and tantrums, biting is especially common among small children because of where they are developmentally. Plus, they're not adept at regulating their emotions well, says Matthew Hertenstein, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana. "Babies learn a lot about the world by using their mouth; biting is a behavior that doesn't turn off right away," he explains.

How to deal Act immediately. "If you're there when it happens, say 'no' in a calm and assertive tone. Don't yell or fly off the handle," says Dr. Maidenberg. Make direct eye contact to help your child connect the command with the unacceptable behavior. Once your child reaches age 3 and is more aware of her relationships, explain, in her terms, the social repercussions of her actions. "Let her know that other children aren't going to want to play with her if she bites them," says Dr. Maidenberg.

When to call an expert Biting is always worrisome because it's a safety issue. That said, this behavior is a real cause for concern if your child is doing it after age 4 or 5, when she's able to express herself well. "Kids typically outgrow this behavior, but if they don't it could mean there is some sort of stress in their life that they're not able to deal with, or they could have aggression issues, " says Dr. Hertenstein.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment