Written by Doctor G

The happy biter

Our two year old just started pre-school and something that started out minor is becoming a real problem.  In his previous daycare, his class happened to be made up of all boys- boys who liked to bite eachother but they were younger and all still finishing teething and the teachers said it wasn’t a big deal.  Now that he is in pre-school- and in a co-ed class- we are worried because the biting is getting worse and is becoming a problem.  In fact, this week alone he has bitten four of his friends (and it’s only Tuesday!)  We got the book called “Teeth Are Not For Biting” and we give him minor punishments (i.e. no bubbles in his bath, no distraction candy at the grocery store) but nothing we try seems to affect his desire to bite his friends!  The oddest part is, right after he’s bitten he apologizes, kisses and hugs the bitee, says “we only bite food,” and they continue playing as if nothing happened (after a short time out of course)!!

Running low on steam, Mollie from Pittsburgh

Hi Mollie! This is a great question.  If you poke around the internet, you will find a lot of good suggestions for managing kids biting in anger or frustration.  Your son is doing something that sounds a little different, however.

Your son seems to be biting either in happiness and excitement, or to show connection to the “bitee.”  Weird, right?  Not really.  Remember last year when he put all his favorite things in his mouth?  Yeah, that!

I checked out the book you mentioned and it looks great.   It sounds like he has gotten the message you want him to since he says “we only bite food.”  How can you get him to internalize not putting his teeth on others?  Here are a few suggestions.

When he bites, ask him for the word he wants to use instead.  Since he doesn’t seem angry, how about “Play!” or “Mine!” or “Happy!” or “Funny!”  His teachers can do this too, even while they are showing sympathy to the child he bit.  For the next few days while you are trying to figure out why he is biting, it is reasonable to focus on his reasons rather than his action.

Then ask him what he’ll do when he wants to bite.  Tickling his friend, hugging, blowing a raspberry are all better, but still physical, options.  Saying a “Biting word” instead of actually using his teeth – like yelling “chomp!” might help him get his feelings out in a socially acceptable way.  Practice this (role play) at home.

He is not going to grow up to be a biting maniac!  He needs his words and his social skills to catch up a bit with his impulses.  In the meantime, listen to the suggestions of his daycare teachers.  They probably have a LOT of experience with this – even with happy biters – that can help you help your son.

Anyone else out there have kids who would bite for joy?

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3 thoughts on “The happy biter”

  1. Klaw bites when he’s excited. He thinks it’s funny. We are trying to not react to it, except by stopping whatever “play” we were engaging in. I’m usually the target of the biting. I’ve dealt with biting toddlers as a caregiver but they were always biting out of frustration/anger.

    1. My second son would bite every time he got excited. Swimming was the worst, because he loved it. Getting pulled out of the pool for a few minutes each time did e v e n t u a l l y help him remember to stop biting me!

  2. It does sound like this two year old isn’t biting out of spite or anger. He recognizes it’s incorrect yet he still does it. Like Dr. G said, it’s best to focus on why instead on the biting itself. I’m a behavioral therapist and once had a patient who bit kids often. His parents and I agreed to giving him a teething toy for him to have all day. The rules were that he would bite the toy and then hug the person he felt like biting. It took a while but it worked.

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