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Biting

Overview

Is it normal for a child to bite?

Most infants and young children bite once in a while. Usually a bite is harmless and may not even leave a mark. Most children stop biting on their own.

Biting in young children usually does not lead to behaviour problems at a later age. But biting after age 3 may be a sign that a child has problems with self-control or expressing feelings.

Biting occurs in a variety of situations, most often when many children are together, such as at a daycare centre.

Why do children bite?

Children bite for different reasons, depending on their age.

Toddlers may bite other people when they are frustrated or want power or control over another person. Young children may bite out of frustration because they cannot yet put their emotions into words.

After age 3, children usually bite when they feel powerless or scared, such as when they are losing a fight or think they are going to be hurt by another person. Children older than 3 who often bite other people need to be seen by a doctor. Biting that happens past age 3 or occurs frequently at any age may need treatment.

When is a child most likely to bite another child?

Biting occurs in a variety of situations, most often when many children are together, such as at daycare. Most biting can be prevented when adults help children find better ways to express their feelings.

A child of any age who frequently bites other children may need special arrangements for daycare. If biting becomes an ongoing problem, parents may be asked to take their child out of a daycare centre.

What can you do about your child's biting?

Not all biting can be prevented. What you can do to reduce biting depends on how old your child is and why your child bites. For example:

  • For teething babies, give them teething rings or a frozen face cloth to chew on.
  • For infants, tell them that biting hurts other people. (Children this age are often not aware that bites hurt.) If your child bites you or someone else, react with a firm voice and say something like, "No! We do not bite."
  • For toddlers, help them find other ways to express their feelings. For example, say something like, "Use your words to tell Susan that you're angry at her for taking your truck."

Learn to recognize the signs that your child is about to bite. You may be able to stop the biting before it happens if you can distract or redirect your child. Don't try to reason with young children or have long talks about biting. Use simple and direct language.

Positive reinforcement also helps. Praise your child when your child shows behaviours that you want to encourage, such as sharing, being kind, or being patient. A reward can be as simple as giving your child a hug or a pat on the back and telling the child how well they are doing.

Be sure to model the behaviour you would like to see in your child. Avoid angry outbursts, and set a good example by showing your child how to deal calmly with everyday frustrations. When a child bites:

  • Don't bite the child back to show how it feels to be bitten.
  • Don't wash out the child's mouth with soap.
  • Don't pinch, slap, or use other physical punishment.

Credits

Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics

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