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How do I get my 5-year-old to stop biting his brother and classmates?

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Can you give us some context? Is he having violent (kicking, biting) tantrums? Doing this as a way to intimidate others and get his way? What other, if any, behavior problems, does he have? –  HedgeMage Mar 30 '11 at 4:08
    
Is he biting as a defense mechanism, or is he lashing out? –  Javid Jamae Mar 30 '11 at 5:04
    
Another child might have a toy he wants. He gets frustrated at not being able to get it and he bites them. This is not defensive, more aggressive. –  nGinius Mar 30 '11 at 18:19

8 Answers 8

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I'll give a go at a generic answer here, though I hope the querant will revise the question with more specifics so that I can, in turn, offer a more direct answer.

Kids that age may bite for a number of reasons, each with its own solution. Here are a few of the most common, in no particular order:

  1. Domination/control/failure to discipline : Like all living things, kids seek to control their environment, to get their own way. If it's working for them, this behavior will continue until it stops working, at which point it will escalate to more violent behavior. A proper time-out followed by making sure the child does not get whatever he/she sought to attain by biting, if consistently applied, will solve the problem.

  2. Failure to cope : If a human being is experiencing something he/she just doesn't know how to cope with, he/she may act out in any way that produces a reaction from others. Figure out what the child isn't coping with, and fix it, THEN address the biting problem per #1.

  3. Failure to communicate : Children who are unable to communicate often lash out like this. If your child speaks, take the time to work on how to handle conflicts with words instead of teeth. If your child does not speak, make sure alternate communication (sign language, assisstive technology, symbol library, whatever) is both available and understood by everyone in your child's environment. Then continue per #1.

  4. Serious sensory or social issue : Some children who have trouble interacting with others in normal, healthy ways, or who aren't connected enough with their social interaction to grok it will resort to things like biting because it is visceral and immediate. There are a number of problems in this category that have very different solutions, so talk to your pediatrician or the school's special ed personnel to find out if your child might have a problem, and if so which kind and what to do about it.

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Accepted because the answer deals with a number of possible causes. –  nGinius Apr 5 '11 at 12:52
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Great that you chose an accepted answer, but you may want to go through and upvote any other answers you feel are "good". I think a portion of our user base isn't so familiar with the stack exchange style site, and so voting has suffered. –  Justin Standard Apr 6 '11 at 21:50

First Things First

You have to explain to your child that biting hurts, and that it hurts the other person as much as it would hurt them. Make sure by the end of the conversation that they explain to you why they don't want to be bitten, and that they understand that is the reason they shouldn't bite.

But sometimes kids this age get excited and don't remember not to bite. How can you remind them?

Try Yo Gabba Gabba

Seriously.

Show him this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6UWNA-WQgI

Yo Gabba Gabba is strangely good at getting some of these critical messages across. Its very catchy and your five year old will "get it".

Then follow up constantly by reminding him of the song. He will remember the song and it will help him remember not to bite.

If That Doesn't Work

If just simply getting the message across doesn't solve the problem, there might be deeper issues behind the biting.

You need to dig deeper to figure out why he is biting. If this is a constant problem, it might be time to consult with a behavioral therapist. Taking these kinds of problems seriously early on can save you and your child from big problems later. A lot of times your health insurance can cover this, so it is likely worth at least checking out if you can't solve the problem on your own.

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If a 5yo child doesn't know that he/she isn't supposed to bite, there are way bigger problems going on here, and a youtube video can't help with them. –  HedgeMage Mar 30 '11 at 7:19
    
I agree, but 4 and 5 year old children often pick up different negative behaviors at different times, and sometimes act out in different ways. The video is not to "solve" the problem, but to give you a good "cue" to help them remember not to bite. Of course, if the behavior persists, yeah its a sign to take further steps. –  Justin Standard Mar 30 '11 at 7:26

What worked for us was a cold shower. If we got a report from the teacher at school that he had bitten someone, or if he bit his brother, parents, grandparents, or put teeth on his babysitter, as soon as he got home he went into the tub under the cold shower.

It was only for a couple of seconds, enough to get him wet, but it worked! If he didn't cooperate, he went in clothes and all. Sometimes we were in there with him. Everything else was ineffective. This took a week to stop with about 2 brief relapses.

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This seems to work for multiple kinds of bad behaviousrincluding just being a screaming brat. –  Barfieldmv Mar 31 '11 at 9:13

Biting can also be a symptom of Sensory Processing Disorder. If you child has persistent biting, I would recommend doing research into this as a possibility, and consult your pediatrician (or get a developmental pediatrician).

SPD is nothing to be scared of, and most children diagnosed with it will learn to compensate and be fine. However, there are techniques and products that can help a child to focus and prevent biting.

If your child has SPD, biting is caused by the child becoming overloaded with sensory input in the classroom.

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Tell him, that it hurts them like it would hurt him. Then remind him that he would not want to be bitten either.

Also you may want to find out, when (or why) he bits his friends. Learn about his feelings and reasons. (You may not understand them but take them seriously!) Give him some hints what he might do better in that case. Just forbid something is not enough. I think you should always give some alternative behavior options.

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Regardless if a child bites or not, I feel it is completely wrong to discipline a child by doing the very same thing to them that he/she did.

My approach to the biting problem is to remove the child to a room where the parent and child are alone, and calmly explain that what he/she did was completely unacceptable behaviour.

They must focus on the parents... eye to eye contact. Don't scream... Explain in great specific detail how & why and what they have done wrong. Ask lots of questions of your child and stay calm. Make sure that you are in charge at all times.

Once you feel the lecture is over, take your child to a corner in your home and have them kneel with their nose in against the corner with no talking or responding for 5 minutes maximum. Then ask them to come see you and ask them "Do you understand why you had to sit in the corner?"

Then have your child apologise to the person whom she/he bit. And warn he/she of the consequences if it were to ever happen again.

I think you will find this method effective with more than just biting.

Good luck, I hope this helps. After all, as the ol' saying goes: Raising children doesn't come with a book.

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I have had the same issues with my 5 year old son in 2012. The school reported 2 different occasions of biting in one week. We did lots of feelings work with him as he said he was really angry both times he did it. We tried explaining why he shouldnt bite other children and he got it, he knew it was wrong. Then the following week squabling with his younger brother over a small toy, after he'd won the toy of him he did it in front of me just sunk his teeth into his leg then came running to me to complain his teeth hurt, he didnt give one thought to the fact his brothers leg was nearly bleeding. I made him sit in the thinking chair while he watched me tend to his crying brothers leg explaining all the time this is what biting does, then i told him he was going to bed early and carried him to bed, I explained I was going to bite him so he knew how it felt for the two boys at school and his brother when he bit them he gave me his arm and I bit it. He cried because it hurt then he cried himself to sleep, I felt really rotten as we dont even spank our children, but he has never bitten anyone again since its over a year later.

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Tell him that biting is bad. Let him bite you softly and let him see its hurting really bad. And bite him back 'hard' (not hurting, just bad enough to feel bad) so he sees it hurts.

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Ehhh.. I don't think biting your child is the right way to teach about biting. Explaining that it hurts, yes, but it doesn't set the right example. –  Justin Standard Mar 30 '11 at 7:17
    
If a 5yo child doesn't know that biting causes pain, he/she has a serious disability that must be addressed. –  HedgeMage Mar 30 '11 at 7:18
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I agree. Biting your child is never a good idea. Come on.. You don't hit or kick your child just to show him that hitting and kicking others is bad. –  Hannibal Mar 30 '11 at 7:43
    
He was biting so hard that he left teeth marks and bruises on his brother - luckily no blood was drawn. We did bite him back until he objected - didn't work. –  nGinius Mar 30 '11 at 18:23
    
Rather allow his siblings to bite back that you. Then he knows there is no escape. –  Gerhard Jun 8 '11 at 9:42

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