Child Is Biting and Scratching/grabbing Faces

Updated on December 09, 2008
L.B. asks from Park Ridge, IL
12 answers

Hello Moms,
My 17 month daughter has been biting at daycare, and at home, and also grabs and scratches our faces. I ahve tried flicking her cheek when she bites, telling her "no", redirection(per her pediatrician), I ahve even tried flicking the cheek, soap and a 2 minute timeout. NOTHING seems to be working. I ahve talked to the daycare director and we are trying to figure out what the cause is. She is in the toddler room and is the smallest kid in her class. I am at my wits end with her. She is such a sweet loving child, with a charming smile and attitude, when not biting!! I know that some will say that this is a phase, but what do I do in the mean time? Any ideas?!?!!?

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answers from Chicago on

How is her language and vocab? At this age if they aren't able to communicate in some way they will get frustrated and have some unwanted behaviors. I would pay attention to what happens just prior to all the biting and scratching. Then you'll be able to better target what is causing it. If she is the smallest the kids may be taking toys away from her and sort of bullying her just because she's the littlest. I would her from the situation and calm her down then talk to her and have her use what words she has to help you understand what's going on. What's making her mad etc.

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answers from Chicago on

I wouldn't flick the cheek or use soap. You want to change her behavior, not punish her! She's not even two yet. This is her way of communicating she's unhappy about something.

Say firmly (no yelling, Mom), "No biting" or "No hit" then set her down. Use redirection as much as possible. It could be that since she's smaller than other kids, she feels like she needs to defend herself or her toys. Do other kids just take stuff from her? What happens before she bites or hits?

It's okay for kids to get mad or upset, they just don't know how to tell you. Give her some options as to express herself. Talk to her about how she might be feeling. Say things like, "Use your words, please. Are you mad? Did Jason take your toy? Let's ask for it back - nicely."

The scratching is a grooming issue. Keep her nails short and not ragged.

I hope this helps.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You might want to stop flicking her. To get her attention, you flick her. She learns that when you 'hit' people in the face or 'bite' them, their attention is garnered. (I'm not saying you full on 'slap' her, but you are using physical contact to the she is repeating what she is learning)

Every time she bites, hits, or scratches - she goes into time out. At daycare insist that they sit her in a chair at a table away from other children, or in a space where she is removed from other kids. No need to explain, talk, justify - just remove her from the situation. She will quickly learn that biting = no more playing, hitting = no more toys, etc. The first few days you might find yourself exasperated and having to constantly put her in the chair. Pretty soon though, she'll get the picture.

Our son started pushing and hitting, so we instituted the time out at daycare. I told them if they have to put him at the table 20 times a day to do it and I would support them wholeheartedly. His behavior changed (for the better) dramatically and now when he is winding up to hit someone or something all I have to do it say his name in my firm 'teacher voice' and he retreats.

I'll be 100% honest, before I had kids of my own I thought the concept of time-outs were for wussy parents who didn't want to discipline their children. After I had my own child and learned how much 'imitation' they do, I wised up and realized that if I hit my kid then they learn that hitting is a way to demonstrate frustration...and clearly not the goal we're trying to reach when attempting to solve a biting/scratching/hitting problem.



answers from Chicago on

When my daughter was around the same stage (she is 8 now) I was in the same situation you are in, but my in home day care mom suggested something she had to do with her own two girls. She had taken one little dab of Tabisco sauce and when she saw her daughter bite the other one she immediately did it to her own child. It did not hurt the child but the biting stopped. She never did it to her day care children, but since I was desperate she suggested I try it at home. When my daughter bit my husband I tried it and she cried. She did it one other time, but after she figured out that she would get either a small bit of Jalepeno or a dab of Tabisco sauce that was the end of the bitting. The key is to catch her in the act, use an extreme small dab(I just put a dab on my finger)and explain that this is for biting that it hurts. Have some milk ready to relieve the spice out of her mouth (she will get the point right away). The idea is not to be cruel just to get her to understand that this is not acceptable.
My son who is now 5 went through the same phase biting his sister, so I tried everything else first. I ended up trying the dab of tabasco and it worked the first time. I felt horrible the first time I tried it. I do not suggest this unless you are really desperate. I do understand that most day cares will only accept this behavior for a short amount of time. I know my sons daycare will ask the child to be removed from the program (this was when he was younger). I wish you the best. I hope other moms have some different choices as well.



answers from Chicago on

You just have to bite her back! That's the only thing that will make her stop.

Sorry but it will work!!
Barb R.



answers from Chicago on

Frankly my guess is you have made it worse. I think if you do some research you will find she is way too young for any of these "punishments" including time outs. You are misreading the situation. She is not misbehaving. I would listen to your pediatrician and also get a book about normal developmental stages.



answers from Chicago on

It is a phase, and time-outs *are* effective at this age. What isn't effective are punitive punishments or 5-minute time-outs for a toddler. Ask your pediatrician for what's appropriate (including redirection), find a good book on age-appropriate discipline, and keep tabs on when she's doing this behavior - is she tired? Hungry? Feeling insecure? Using it to communicate?

You don't say if she talks, but if not, maybe some sign language (basic signs) to help her communicate what she wants. What's also effective is a mommy time-out: If she does any of this, just put her down and walk away for a minute. Praise her effusively when she's not biting and scratching. She *will* grow out of it.



answers from Chicago on

Hi L.,

My daughter went through this phase at about the same age, and her biting and hair pulling was a communication tool. If she did not possess the words, felt as thought she was not being heard, or wanted a quick way to be heard, she bit or pulled at your hair.

We eliminated this behavior with time outs that were followed by her apologizing to her victim and then explaining in toddler-eze that "biting hurts, and we don't bite." Then, of course, we also tried to figure out what she was trying to communicate without the words, and would tell her how to appropriately communicate. For example, her sister was the recipient of many bites and hair pulls, because she would take something from her or pick her up, so we told her to tell her to tell her sister to "stop it" or "no touch" her. After her time out apology and explanation, we would make her go back to big sister and tell her what she really was trying to communicate. This worked for us - not immediately, but with consistenty and love it did. We also had to work on big sister's listening skills, too.

I wouldn't use physical means to punish your daughter, because she is trying to communicate to you with her behavior, so you need to do a little detective work and figure her message out.

Good luck, and remember this too shall pass!



answers from Chicago on

I believe in the time out - a minute per year of age. But, Soap?????????? Do you mean like soap in the mouth soap? If that is the case, my advice is not to do that unless you want child services on your doorstep. There are so many chemicals in soap that cannot possibly do anything but get her sick.




answers from Chicago on

try a five min time out with the reason why, when she goes to hit or scratch grab the hands, say no, until it looks like she gets it then reward her " very good" ( with a kiss) and hey if shes the smallest in the class she may be acting out of fear and to come home only to realize that you guys are big too! (lol)



answers from Chicago on

I know it won't be popular, but it works.

Bite her back. IF you see her bite, then immediately say NO biting and bite her back. Just enough to make her eyes wide. Then tell her "See it hurts." Don't hurt people!!!!

Give the daycare worker permission to separate her from the other kids for the entire day if she continues to bite. Tell the daycare worker to remind her repeatedly while she's in time-out that she bit someone and it hurt them so she can't play with the other kids. If you hurt the other kids, you can't play with them.

Some would say that you should only do time-out for one minute per year of age, but that is hogwash. A two year old in a two minute time-out is a joke. They could care less about a two minute time-out. If it isn't painful (meaning they cry), then it wasn't a punishment.

Sometimes we have to be really harsh with our children to spare the kids they have to be around. I would rather be harsh with my child to protect the others than know that other children are being hurt and have to endure my child's wrath for any period of time.

My oldest bit me....I bit her back one time. She never did it again.

My second child bit the little girl I watch. I bit her back and spanked her bottom because she lied to me about it...though I could see the dark red teeth marks on the little girl's hand. She has never bit again.

My cousin had a problem with biting. He was about to get thrown out of daycare (they would do that back in those days). We were visiting and he bit my brother in the back so hard that he drew blood. My aunt was horrified. Not only was she able to see the damage he would inflict for herself (instead of being told by a daycare worker)...but it was a relatives she bit him back. She bit his arm hard enough to make his eyes open wide and leave a slight red mark. He cried like she killed him. Then she kept making him look at my brothers back and saying you hurt your cousin. Look he's crying and he's bleeding. Look what you did...see it hurts to bite. DO NOT BITE!!!!

She told my mother later that he never bit another child again.

PS It irritates me to no end that people will tell you to just ignore it or separate her when she does it because it is a phase. My girls had to endure a cousin constantly being aggressive and hateful to them for over two years. He got so bold (because his parents figured it was just a phase...and would separate him for a few minutes) that he stepped on my infant daughters head and stood on her...He knew what he was doing because he was looking to see if anyone was watching. I also caught him looking around one day while they were playing and then he proceeded to whack my daughter in the head with a toy.

No child should have to endure being bit, hit, scratched, or bullied!!!!! It is the society that we live in that we care more about the offender than the victems. If you deal with it immediately in a way that they can understand...they won't do it again. If a child gets burned by a flame, they won't stick their hand in it again. They do understand. (and no I'm not advocating that you burn your is just a point to prove that kids can learn and understand even at a young age)

Does she look to see if you are watching when she's going to do something you have told her not to do????? Does she pull her hand away if you say no???? Are there things she doesn't do anymore because you have told her no????? Then she understands.

Sometimes we have to think about others. The other kids should not have to endure your child's biting. Those parents that say to ignore it, that it will pass probably have never had their child abused.

I am very passionate about this because I have two sweet girls...I immediately dealt with their normal behavior issues like biting. They never did again. They hit me once. They bit once. They didn't throw tantrums for very long at all. WHY????? Because I dealt with it immediately. I understand that my children are intelligent. If I can train a puppy to go on a paper in a few days....then I can teach a two year old not to bite. Sometimes you have to be a little harsh. Not abusive. There is a difference. And ALWAYS back up discipline with love, hugs, and kisses.

If I get a ticket for speeding, I'm not mad at the police officer for giving me a ticket. I was doing something wrong. My children know I love them. They love me. They are sweet, loving, caring little girls. They have not been traumatized because I disciplined them. But they did learn quickly. And no one had to endure them for more than once.

Let me stop. I hope you can find a way to deal with a very normal behavior quickly. It is a phase. And it can be handled with quickly so no one else has to be hurt.



answers from Chicago on

Timeouts are definitely not advised for her age. They promote more stress rather than less stress. She doesn't know that what she is doing is wrong. So your pediatrician is right, redirection and modeling appropriate behavior is the best solution. It does take time and the in between can be hard. Good luck.

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