Two Year Old Biting Herself

by Michelle Borba

The following question was asked of Michelle Borba:

"I watch a 2-year-old little girl in my home daycare. Recently she has started biting herself. At first we didn't actually see her bite herself but recently the parents caught her in the act. Just this week she was found with three bite marks on her legs after waking up from her nap. Is this behavior normal? Will she outgrow it? Could it be a sign of a bigger problem? She's just now started saying some words so when you ask her why she did it she doesn't understand or answer."

Michelle responded with:
You're right to be concerned about a child biting herself like this. But let's look at possibilities.

A two-year-old unfortunately can't give us much insight -- so what we have to do is play detective.

Here are questions that may help you get to the bottom of this. I can't give you a straight answer because I can't observe the child. So you use your intuition after you answer these questions:

  1. Your first question is to seriously ask yourself when this started. When did she first begin to bite? Is there ANYTHING that could be triggering this? You probably don't know but her parents should get some insight into this. Is there tension at home? Is there a child at daycare that bothers her? Is there a fear that could be triggering this?
  2. Is she wanting attention? Could this be her way of getting attention that she craves for some reason?
  3. Does she do this only at day care or also at home? If so, why? Is there something triggering the difference?
  4. Teething -- could that be an issue? Sometimes we overlook the obvious. Earaches, a pain elsewhere could also trigger this. Is she healthy?
  5. Is she by nature a tense child? Is there a fear of some kind triggering this?
  6. How is her reaction when her parents LEAVE her with you -- how is her reaction when her parents PICK her up? Are you seeing anything there that could might indicate something else is going on?
  7. Is there any other child biting? Is she copying the behavior?

You're also right; Kids do not bite themselves to intentionally cause themselves pain. And those bite marks are painful. The problem also is she can't give you an answer. Hopefully you can go through the seven questions and see if by chance one of them gives you a clue as to why she's using this behavior. It is a learned behavior. How are people responding to it? Is there so much attention by given to it, she feels it's worth continuing? My book, No More Misbehavin, has a whole chapter on a makeover for biting if you need additional ideas.

I'd definitely do some big time talking with the parents and tell them your concerns in a genuine, concerned way. If it continues, I would ASAP tell them to seek out their pediatrician's advise who might be able to detect something else you're missing. Don't let this behavior continue.

Good for you for sharing your concerns and being proactive.