My 3-year-old son is biting to defend himself. I received a call from the daycare today asking what they should do. My son doesn't bite at home at all, he is only biting at school. For some reason the teacher only sees when my son bites the other kids but not when the other kids bite my son. If I don't tell them about the bite marks they wouldn't know about it.

The time when my son did bite at home was always when another child was bullying/hurting or biting him, so he resolves in biting back. My son doesn't cry when another child bites him and he won't tell on the other child when he is bitten/hurt or bullied. Neither does he want to point out which child it is. He was moved from one class to another to see if that helps, but on the playground they are still together with all the kids. He tends to only bite the one kid...

How do I go about this? I don't want to teach him to not stand up for himself, but to rather resolve it in another manner. But what can I do if he doesn't want to say anything?

2 Answers 2


Biting is tough; my oldest went through a stage at just over a year and it was very difficult to train him out of it. It took around four months to get him to stop; he just didn't understand it was wrong, even with books, 'Ouch, Biting Hurts', giving more attention to the bitee, etc.

Biting at three is a bit different, though. A three year old has some (limited) understanding that what they're doing is wrong. However, the three year old also has some understanding of his or her situation; it's possible that the child who your child bites (and bites your child) is indeed a bully, and your child doesn't see any good way to solve the problem except by retaliating.

I would put this primarily in the teachers' laps. In particular, if it's just one other child, it should be up to them to watch these two (watch your son until they figure out which other child it is) and ensure they don't get too close (or, whatever seems to set it off doesn't come to pass; perhaps they play together reasonably until one of them wants a toy the other has, or similar.) This probably won't be forever; it might just be a few weeks or a month or two, until both children learn it is not going to work.

They should have enough teachers to watch like this; even if it's multiple classes together on the playground, at least in the US there are minimum standards for numbers of teachers per student (where I live, no more than 15 kids together and at least 1/7 ratio at that age if it's all 3+). If they aren't willing to do this, then it's time to consider another daycare.

Secondly, at home it sounds like you're doing the right thing. Talk to him about it, find out what's going on (to the extent you can). Teach him coping strategies for dealing with bullies. Roleplay the situation; imagine the other child bit him, now, what's the right solution? Not biting, but going to the teacher, or if he doesn't feel comfortable with that, walking away. We struggle with this right now with our oldest, as our youngest just turned one and is still very hard for him to get along with (destructive play primarily); roleplaying helped some, at least, although walking away from his favorite toy can be hard to do.

Also consider books. This book is what we use; it's fairly young-aimed (often used at 1 year old level) but is still quite appropriate for 3 and helps with the role-playing and alternative strategies elements.


My son also received some serious bite marks as a toddler, and he learned to do the same. We made sure to tell him at every given situation that biting is wrong and he must speak up when it happens (daytime caregivers did the same).

Thankfully he learned that biting and hitting is never okay, even in defense, and it always works to speak up, to move away from the bully, and get support from adults.

We're not teaching him to be a tattle-tale. He doesn't request adult help unless he has already tried unsuccessfully dealing with it alone.

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    Speaking from the perspective of a former martial arts instructor, this is training your son to become an ideal victim. People came to me after bad things happened because they were raised with this mindset. Under zero tolerance policies, schools, staff, and administrators are penalized for acknowledging events. Ultimately, your child is the person in the best position to make the on the spot decision about how to respond to a situation.
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 5, 2019 at 16:22
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    @pojo-guy you're right, except for toddlers that can't make thoughtful judgments on their own. He's 9 now and more than capable of defending himself; at this age I would not let him be a victim. Jan 5, 2019 at 18:32

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