What to Do When Your Child Bites

Biting is a very common behavior that usually disappears quickly with appropriate responses from parents and caregivers. Understanding the cause of biting will help you respond effectively. Appropriate responses from parents can reduce and, ultimately, eliminate toddler biting.

baby with teething pain

To reduce and prevent biting, avoid shaming and harsh punishment.

Children may bite to cope with a challenge or to meet a need. Your child may bite to express a feeling or communicate a need for personal space. Doing your best to understand the cause of the biting should help you effectively respond.

Why do toddlers bite?

There are many reasons why toddlers might bite. For instance, toddlers might bite if they:

  • Lack language skills necessary to express needs or strong feelings.
  • Are overwhelmed by the sounds, light or activity level.
  • Are experimenting to see what will happen.
  • Need more active playtime.
  • Are tired.
  • Are teething.
  • Have a need for oral stimulation.

Strategies to Prevent Biting

Watch your child as they play with others and pay attention when a bite occurs. Consider:

  • What was going on right before the bite?
  • What was your child doing?
  • Who was your child playing with?
  • Who was bit? Is it always the same child, or different children each time?
  • Where was your child?
  • When you see signs that your child might be close to biting, you can:

Distract your child with a toy or book or walk with them to another room or outside. This strategy can help reduce the tension and shift your child’s attention. This shift will help your child learn that biting is not ok.

Give your child other ways to respond to situations that make them want to bite. Give your child words to express their feelings,for example: “You are a little too close to me.”  “I don’t like it when you touch my hair.” This will help them communicate their needs and feelings.

Offer options other than biting. If you think your child might be biting due to a need for oral stimulation, offer them something they can bite and chew safely, for example, a snack or a teether.

Teach ways to share. Sharing is one of the most common causes of biting. Help your child understand the rules of sharing. Use a timer to show children how long they can each play with a particular toy.

Read books with your child about biting. This can also help demonstrate appropriate responses.  Suggested books include:

  • Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdickoffsite
  • No Biting by Karen Katzoffsite
  • No Biting, Louise by Margie Palatinioffsite

When Your Toddler Bites

Keep your feelings in check. When a toddler bites, you might feel frustrated, infuriated, annoyed, embarrassed, and/or worried. All of these feelings are normal, but count to 10, take a deep breath, or do whatever helps you feel calm.

In a strong, firm voice say: No biting. Biting hurts. Point out the other child’s feeling: “Look, she is crying because biting hurts”. Keep it short, simple and clear.

Then, shift your attention to the child who was bitten.  Showing concern and sympathy for the child who was bitten also teaches empathy.

Remember, learning a new behavior takes time

Your toddler may bite again, so continue watching playtime closely. It also helps to use the same words over and over. “No biting. Biting hurts.

When to Look for Help

Biting behaviors usually stops by age 3 to 3 ½. If your toddler continues to bite, an assessment from a child development specialist is a good idea.
Child development specialists can help you identify the reason for the biting and develop a strategy for addressing the behavior. Remember, there is no quick fix. With assistance, your child will stop biting and use different positive behaviors to express needs.

Avoid these responses

Shaming and harsh punishment do not reduce biting, and can increase fear and worry—which can actually increase biting.

Biting your child back, is also not a useful response. There is no research to show this will reduce biting. However, it does teach your child that it’s okay to bite people when you are upset. Also know that human bites can be dangerous, and biting constitutes child abuse.