(author of dozens of books for adults and children, parent
One of the problems parents have trouble solving is that of
biting. A child who bites immediately commands attention.
From then on, he is labeled as `bad' and his actions are
described in various derogatory terms. This is confusing for
him, since he is denigrated and related to with anger.
Biting can take place at a very early age, even several
months, but it is also a common phenomenon among nursery
school children aged 3-5 years.
How can we avoid this occurrence? How should we react
when it happens in our family?
1. Biting by infants -- as a result of teething
A distinction has to made between infants and older
children. Infants bite when they are teething, since it
helps them reduce the irritation. We must tell the baby in a
firm way that the bite hurts, that it is not allowed and
that it is unacceptable [important for nursing mothers!].
Even an eight month old infant can understand this, if we
explain it to him. But this is not enough. The baby is
suffering and we must supply him with substitutes such as
special teething rings, toys, bagels etc., or special
ointments available in pharmacies.
Often, we can prevent a child from biting if we keep an eye
on him (this is basically important for other reasons also).
If he seems angry, tired, nervous, and we give him
substitutes, he won't get to the biting stage.
Babies learn a lot by putting objects into their mouths.
They discover the world by biting and tasting, and sometimes
they taste and bite things that are forbidden. For this
reason, we should supervise our children and prevent this
2. A child who bites is dissatisfied
A bigger child who bites (even though he understands
everything and knows it is not allowed), is a good child who
feels bad. He is not a bad child. And this is the mistake
many of us make. When he bites, we jump on him, "No! That's
not allowed! Bad boy! What did you do? Did you see what you
did to him? Why did you do that? Do you know what they call
someone who bites?"
All these reactions are the opposite of what we should do. A
child who bites is unhappy and desperately needs
understanding. He needs empathy for what he did. Just as the
child who was bitten needs caressing and someone to calm him
down, the child who bites needs the same thing. He didn't
really mean it and often regrets it right away. He is simply
a small child who couldn't overcome a bad impulse.
The division between good boy and bad boy, between the biter
and the bitten and the judgment we pass on each one, makes
us classify the children. The biter (who perhaps did this
only once), is the bad boy whom we already expect to
continue on this way, while the bitten child is the poor one
who deserves sympathy and whom we have to protect.
If we can understand that the child who bites is not a
negative human being and we relate to him like that, there
is a good chance that he'll stop acting in a negative
manner. In this way, we can avoid labeling children.
Our reaction must be a caress and an expression of love to
both children at the same time and guiding the child who
bites so that he can overcome his impulses.
In order to help a child control himself before he does
something which is prohibited, we must provide him with
other possibilities for letting go. This way, if he very
much wants to bite or to hit, he can do this to a doll or
some other object which is unfeeling, or even better, "Try
to express in writing, or by drawing a picture to show what
is bothering you, what is burdening you, or the reason you
wanted to bite your brother." If we say this to the child,
with words he can understand and also be available to hear
what's on his heart, he won't get to the point of biting.
Many children who bite, do so in order to get attention from
their parents. We won't give them what they want when they
behave this way. We'll show them that we pay attention to
them davka at other times. We'll caress the bitten
child and hold back our anger at the child who bites, while
we search for a different way to relate to him. Sometimes
the biter is a child who is lively and full of energy. We'll
have to find a suitable way to speak to him. Sometimes, to
our amazement, the biter is quiet and introverted and we'll
have to find an appropriate way to relate to him, also.
When a child knows that he is being watched and we relate to
him even when he is not doing anything unusual, he will try
to behave in general.
4. Encouraging the biter to change his ways
It is very important to encourage the child who bites -- in
other areas, of course. If a child bites often, we find
moments when he doesn't bite, and even though he is angry,
we'll praise him: "I saw you were very upset. Maybe you even
wanted to bite, right? But you overcame it. That's
wonderful! I'm happy you know how to control yourself." Or,
"How pleased I am that in our house there is no biting, that
my children are capable of controlling themselves."
A TIP -- The Biting Game
A child who was never bitten doesn't know that biting
If a child bites his parent or a sibling aggressively, the
parent can quietly take him on his lap and ask him in a
caring manner: "Do you want to play the biting game?" It's
enough for the parent to bite the child, not even strongly,
for the child to learn. It is important for the parent to
control himself and not say: "You see, you deserve it!" He
should rather say something like: "Alright, I see you don't
like it, so let's decide not to play the biting game in this