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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Biting and Anxiety

11/27/2006

Question:

My 3 1/2 yr old has started biting her hands and will leave perfectly round teeth imprints that don't go away for days,sometimes she breaks skin, we believe shes having a tough time cause she lost her mommy in a car accident a year 1/2 ago and we her grandparents adopted her. She's also constantly yelling and very very strong willed. This has been going on for some time now and I dont know what to do. I took her to a counselor and she said she was fine.Do you have any suggestions please.

Answer:

It is important to know the context of the hand biting, if it occurs without provocation then it is probably anxiety related and has its origin as a mechanism for relieving stress as strange as that might sound.  If the biting occurs in the context of an argument or after punishment there is probably an element of anger and hostility which is expressed in self harm, as if to say "I know I am a bad kid and I deserve to be punished, rather than let you do it, I will do it myself"  I would consider another round of evaluation by a mental health professional as transitions around the kind of life events that this child has experienced are never easy. 

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Response by:

Floyd R Sallee, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati