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Biting at Daycare

Expert Pediatrics Q&A

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Updated November 18, 2006

Q. My 15 month old has been biting other children at daycare for about 3 weeks now. She also did it at home for a few days, but quickly stopped when I told her no. The staff and other parents are starting to get upset that she won't stop biting now and have suggested that I talk to my pediatrician. They say that they talk to her and tell her that it hurts to bite, put her in time out, and try to watch her, but that there are too many kids for them to only focus on her and I am afraid that they are going to kick her out of daycare. What else can I do? Nancy.

A. While biting is a normal toddler behavior, with proper interventions, most kids stop biting after a few days or weeks. While it is good that the daycare staff isn't punishing her for biting and isn't doing anything silly, like biting her back, they may be doing too much.

She is almost certainly too young for a lecture or even timeout and all of their interventions may actually be reinforcing her biting.

Instead, you might ask them to keep it a little more simple and just:

  • try to intervene or distract her and say 'no bite' firmly, but calmly, if she is about to bite. This means that someone has to keep an extra close eye on her or 'shadow' her for a few days though, being careful to do it in a way so that she doesn't know that she is getting the extra attention.
  • say 'no' or 'no bite' firmly, but calmly, if she does bite
  • after she bites, it can be a good idea to move her away from the other child and ignore her for a few minutes, although this isn't really a formal timeout like you would use for an older child
  • remind her not to bite from time to time, including perhaps a short reminder that 'biting hurts'
  • provide some praise and positive attention when she isn't biting and is playing nicely
  • keep to a good routine all day, including meals, naps, and playtime
  • avoid asking a parent to pick up the child and sending her home after she bites, since that can reinforce biting
It can also be helpful to know why and when he is biting. Is she overtired? Is she teething? Did another child try to take her blanket or toy? Is anything going on at home that has her out of her routine that you could fix?

At home, be sure to also stick to a good routine and make sure she gets a good night's sleep. Toddlers who are overly tired or stressed are more likely to bite at daycare. Since she isn't doing it at home anymore, there isn't a lot that you can do at home though.

Spending a few days with her, so that you can intervene and get her biting under control might be helpful, although she might simply start biting again when you aren't there. Or volunteer to help in another part of the daycare so one of their staff can watch your child and make sure she doesn't bite anyone for a few days.

You might also consider that her persistent biting could mean that this daycare isn't a good fit for her. Maybe it is too structured or not structured enough. Are there too many kids in the room?

Keep in mind that just because the daycare isn't a good fit doesn't mean it isn't a good daycare. They may be doing everything right and it just isn't working for your child for some reason.

Getting Bitten

One of the worst things about having a biter is the way the parents of the kids who got bit make you feel. Unless their kids also bite, they typically don't understand that biting is a normal developmental behavior, is rarely dangerous to their child, and that almost any toddler can turn into a biter. So try not to feel embarrassed or pay attention to the dirty looks you might get from the parents of the kids who got bit and just focus on helping your own child stop biting.

What You Need To Know

Biting is a normal behavior or phase for most younger children, which is the most important thing most parents need to know.

Other important things to know about biting include that:

  • younger children often bite when they are teething, overtired, jealous, frustrated, mad, etc., or to simply see what happens when they bite, which is especially true of infants and younger toddlers, who may just be experimenting and exploring their world.

  • you should be careful not to overreact when your child bites, which can reinforce the biting because your child gets excited about the reaction it brings about.

  • don't do anything like bite your child back, physically punish your child, or put anything in her mouth when she bites.

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