Teaching Your Child Not to Bite

Once Bitten...

Twenty-one-month-old Taylor Ann Burrage has the battle scars to prove those numbers. "She's been bitten about twenty times in eight months at day care," says her mom, Cheryl, of Woodbridge, Virginia. "Taylor Ann doesn't seem to mind, and her teachers are trying to solve the problem. But I'm considering finding another center because ours won't dismiss a child until he's bitten the same child three times -- even if he's taken a bite out of every child in the room."

Policies that don't call for the removal of a biter are not unusual, according to Jim Greenman, vice president of the Cambridge, Massachusetts -- based Bright Horizons Family Solutions day-care centers and the author of Prime Time: A Handbook of Excellence for Infant and Toddler Care (Red Leaf Press, 1997). "Because biting is usually a passing phase, centers are more likely to try to work with parents to resolve the problem rather than dismiss a child." And, says Greenman, if your child seems very happy with her caregiver, it's unwise to yank her out because of a bite or two. "Only if your toddler is clearly dreading day care should you consider changing caregivers," he says.

If biting does occur, don't expect your caregiver to release the name of a biter or bitee. "This approach encourages parents to work with caregivers rather than confront one another," says Greenman.

But if your child is the one who's doing the biting, there are effective ways to deal with the behavior -- and its victims. First, comfort the child who's been bitten, or if you were the recipient, take care of yourself. "This response sends an important message to the biter," explains Greenman. "By refusing to respond, you don't reinforce the behavior."

Next, calmly remove the biter from the situation and give him a moment to regain his composure. Then, in a firm, calm voice, say, "We don't bite. It hurts other people." Never bite back -- not only is it ineffective, but it also tells the child that this kind of behavior scores attention. To prevent future episodes, use the following strategies:

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