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CHILD’S HEALTH/SPECIFIC PROBLEM BEHAVIOURS: BITING

Biting is a distressing manifestation of aggressive behaviour in young children. More common in boys than girls, it is most common in the toddler and preschool age groups. The behaviour can be directed against parents, siblings or peers.

Cause

The immediate cause of biting is often the child being angry or frustrated, usually at not getting his own way. The reason some children bite in reaction to these feelings is unknown.

Clinical features

Episodes of biting may occur in the home, at daycare or preschool, or anywhere the child comes into contact with others of his own age. It is usually associated with anger or frustration, though occasionally no immediate precipitating event is noted. In many instances parents are first made aware of the problem by daycare or preschool staff.

Treatment

It should be made very clear to the child that such behaviour will not be tolerated. If it occurs again, the child should immediately be removed from the situation, the adult saying to him in a loud, stern voice: ‘No! You are not to bite other children!’ The child should then be removed to a remote section of the home or childcare facility for ‘time-out’.

After an appropriate period of time-out, during which the child is essentially ignored, he can be returned to the group with a comment that biting is naughty and will not be tolerated. If it occurs again, the same consequences must immediately occur.

Prevention

Sometimes gentle biting occurs during play between the young child and parents, and this may give rise to more serious biting later on. Biting at any age should be discouraged.

When to see your doctor

The doctor may help with reinforcing strategies for parents when biting occurs, and may provide information about referral to a paediatrician or psychologist if the behaviour continues.

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