Biting is very common in toddlers and a normal part of a child’s development. Understanding why children bite, and how best to respond, can help parents and carers deal with this challenging behaviour. Fortunately, children who bite usually stop once they learn other ways to express themselves.
Why do children bite?
Biting is a normal part of childhood development and is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong.
Some of the main reasons why children bite include:
- exploration — very young children (those aged 6-12 months) often bite just to see what happens
- teething — biting down on things when teeth are coming through the gums can feel good
- accidental — a very young child may bite without meaning to hurt — for example, when kissing
- copying — children tend to copy things they’ve seen others do, including biting
- impulsive — children under 3 years of age find it hard to control themselves, and sometimes just do something impulsively without thinking about the consequences
- tiredness, hunger, or illness — some children bite when they’re feeling unwell, tired or hungry
- boredom — biting is used by some children to get attention, because it’s certain to get a reaction!
- over-excitement — sometimes children bite when they are overstimulated or overwhelmed
- frustration — toddlers can bite when having a tantrum to express frustration or when feeling powerless
- stress — when a child is under stress, they may use biting to show distress or anxiety.
How to respond when your child bites
How you respond to biting is important, because your reaction is likely to influence your child’s behaviour in the future.What to do when your child bites:
- Stay calm — this will help you work out the best way to deal with the situation, while modelling self-control to your child.
- Remove your child from the situation; for example, separating them from the kids they were playing with.
- Tell your child that biting hurts, and they mustn’t do it (e.g. ‘Biting hurts. No biting’).
- Try to react according to the situation. For example, if your child bites you to demand your attention, you could turn away.
To avoid biting becoming a habit, it’s important to help your child learn how to use words to express their feelings, and also to encourage good behaviour when you see it.
What not to do when your child bites:
- Never bite a child back.
- Never get a child to bite themselves, so they ‘know what it feels like’.
- Don’t shout at a child who bit you — this won’t help them learn appropriate behaviour.
See more tips on discipline strategies here.
If you find out your child has been biting
It can be upsetting when your child bites you, but even more upsetting when they bite someone else. If you weren’t there at the time, you may only find out about the biting from a report, such as from your child’s childcare centre.
You may feel angry, guilty and worried about other people’s reactions. Understandably, those involved (for example, the parents of the bitten child) are likely to feel upset about the biting, so it’s a good idea to apologise as soon as possible after the incident.
If you are there when it happens, the most important thing is to comfort the child who has been bitten, and deal with your child appropriately, using the strategies above.
If your child is being bitten
If another child has bitten your child, you may feel angry towards the child, their family, or the people who were in charge when it happened (such as childcare centre staff). And if the biting has happened on more than one occasion, you are likely to feel frustrated.
Unfortunately, when young children are cared for in large groups, biting incidents are almost inevitable. However, staff who care for young children are used to such incidents, and will have strategies in place for dealing with them. Know that your child’s safety is important to them, and they will be doing what they can to resolve the situation.
Where to seek help
If you feel like you need help in dealing with a biting situation, you might want to get advice from a professional.
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Last reviewed: January 2020