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How Should a Babysitter Deal with a Child Who Bites?

You are babysitting for a child who bites you.  How can you help this child learn not to bite?

  • 1. Remain calm. Do not react with anger.
  • 2. You need to determine why the child is biting. Is the child teething? Is s/he trying to learn about his/her world through oral exploration (putting things in his/her mouth and learning how they taste, feel, etc.)? Is the child biting to gain control or in self-defense? Is s/he stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry, or excited? Is s/he engaging in attention-seeking behavior?
  • 3. Once you know the reason that the child is biting, you need to respond appropriately.
  • A. If the child is teething, you should provide him/her with suitable things on which s/he can chew.
  • B. If the child is trying to learn about his/her world through oral exploration, tell the child that biting is not appropriate behavior. Explain to the child that biting hurts and is not nice. Provide the child with alternate means to learn about whatever s/he was biting.
  • C. If the child is trying to gain control or is acting in self-defense, tell the child that biting is not appropriate behavior. Explain to the child that biting hurts and is not nice. Then, determine why the child feels like s/he lacks control or feels threatened or attacked. Provide the child with alternate means to secure a measure of control over his/her circumstance or to communicate to you that s/he is feeling threatened or attacked.
  • D. If the child is stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry, or excited, tell the child that biting is not appropriate behavior. Explain to the child that biting hurts and is not nice. Then, discuss the child’s feelings and provide the child with alternate means to express his/her feelings.
  • E. If the child is engaging in attention-seeking behaviors, tell the child that biting is not appropriate behavior. Explain to the child that biting hurts and is not nice. Provide the child with alternate means to let you know when s/he would like attention from you. Then, provide the child with the attention s/he seeks.
  • 4. Watch the child to see if there is recurrence of the biting behavior. Praise the child when s/he confronts a situation in which s/he would have bitten (based on past conduct) but did not bite. Redirect the child’s behavior if biting recurs. You will need to follow the child’s parents’ guidelines on redirection (ex., verbal redirection on first occurrence, a time out on second occurrence, and an immediate bedtime on third or successive occurrence).
  • 5. When the parents return home, let them know of the child’s behaviors and how you responded.

By following these five steps, you will do all you can to deal with a child who bites.

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