Childhood Biting

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

How do I get my toddler to stop biting himself?

Developmentally and neurologically healthy children most commonly bite themselves out of frustration coupled with an inability to express emotions by an alternative means. Likewise, such children may bite themselves out of boredom. Generally, such biting behaviors will not purposefully inflict pain or do damage. Working with the child and role-modeling verbal and behavioral ways of expressing his emotions is often helpful. If a toddler demonstrates self-inflicted pain or bodily injury, a consultation with his pediatrician should be arranged. Severe emotional stress or an uncommon neurological condition (such as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome) may be the cause.

How do I get my toddler to stop biting other children at day care?

Toddlers tend to bite others as a response to anger and/or frustration. Adult supervision should be able to defuse many of the impending situations that might lead to biting behavior (such as when two children want to play with the same toy). Modeling verbal or other more socially accepted behaviors in dealing with frustration and delayed gratification are worthwhile. Time-out and separation from the "crisis zone" is a reasonable response to biting.

What should parents or caregivers do if their child is bitten?

Generally, simple soap and water scrubbing followed by application of an over-the-counter topical antibiotic ointment should suffice. Notification of the parents so they may watch for evidence of infection is important. Children do not contract tetanus from a human bite.

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