Why do children bite?
Biting is a normal part of childhood development and is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong or that your child is naughty or badly behaved.
Some of the main reasons why children bite include:
- exploration — very young children (those aged 6 to 12 months) often bite just to see what happens
- teething — biting down on things when teeth are coming through, so their 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
- tiredness, hunger, or illness — some children bite when they’re feeling unwell, tired or hungry
Other reasons are more emotional:
- impulsive — young children find it hard to control themselves, and sometimes just do something impulsively without thinking about the consequences
- 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 should I respond when my 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, separate them from the kids they were playing with.
- Tell your child in a clear way that biting hurts, and they mustn't do it (for example, say "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 to encourage good behaviour when you see it.
What should I not do when my child bites?
What to avoid doing 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.
- Don’t let children think biting is funny or a game.
What if my child has been biting when I’m not nearby?
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. It’s a good idea to apologise as soon as possible after the incident.
See more tips on discipline strategies here.
What if my 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). 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 hard to avoid. Staff who care for young children are familiar with these incidents, and will have strategies in place for managing them. So long as you trust the carers, and know that your child’s safety is important to them, remember that they will be doing what they can to resolve the situation. Speak to the staff or person in charge and ask them what strategies they use when a child is biting.
Where can I seek help?
If you feel like you need help with a biting situation, you can get advice from a professional.
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Last reviewed: July 2022