What to Do About Biting?
ParentLink, 4-H/Youth Development, University of Missouri-Columbia
Many young children go through a biting phase that is troubling to parents. Time usually solves the problem, although there are things parents can do to help prevent and solve this problem.
1. Why does my child bite?
Biting happens for many reasons with different children in a variety of circumstances. Here are a few reasons why children bite:
- Exploration: Children learn by touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting. Biting is another way to explore the world.
- Cause and effect: Children at this age are exploring what happens when they do something; that curiosity includes biting. They may not realize that biting can hurt others.
- Attention: Children may bite to get attention. Biting is quick way to become the center of attention, even if it is negative attention.
- Imitation: Children may see other children biting and decide to try it themselves.
- Independence: Children at this age are trying hard to be independent. Biting can be a quick way to get a toy you want, or example, or to make another child leave.
- Frustration: Growing up can be stressful, especially for young children who don’t have control of their bodies yet and have not yet learned to find the words to express their feelings. At times, children may resort to hitting, pushing, or biting when they don’t have the ability to talk about their frustration.
- Stress: A child’s world can be stressful. Biting can be a way to express feelings and relieve tension that results from stressful events such as a divorce, death of a pet, or starting a new preschool.
- Self-defense: Some children bite because other children have bitten or shown aggression toward them.
2. Is biting common in children?
Many children between the ages of 14 months and 3 years go through a biting phase that usually disappears when they can express their needs and feelings through words. Parents who stay calm, respond appropriately, and encourage children to express themselves with words instead of biting can help guide children through this phase.
3. What can I do to stop my child from biting?
Determining when and why children bite can also help solve the problem. For instance, does the biting usually occur when a child is tired or hungry? Does the child always bite the same person? Does the biting usually occur at daycare when children want the same toy?
If biting occurs when two young children want the same toy, buying a second toy may help until children are old enough to learn to share. Children who are biting one another can be redirected to separate activities until this phase passes.
If biting occurs with a major change in a child’s life, such as starting a new preschool, he or she may need extra love and attention during this time.
Watch for signs of rising frustration in your child and take action to prevent conflicts such as biting from happening. Young children can be distracted and redirected to other activities to prevent biting incidents.
4. Will biting behavior just go away if I ignore it?
Children will move through this phase as they develop more effective social skills, but parents can help by responding appropriately and teaching their children better ways to express their feelings using words. Close supervision during this time period in order to be able to act quickly to resolve problems will also help children work through the biting phase.
5. How can my child care provider and I help solve my child’s biting problem?
Parents and day care providers can work together as a team to problem solve and respond with consistency to your child’s biting. Team members can work together to identify possible reasons for your child’s biting and respond appropriately. Communicating together and comparing observations at home and at daycare can help you solve this problem together.
6. Are there ways I can prevent my child from biting?
Parents can encourage children to express themselves in words. The more they can put their feelings into words (“I’m mad. I want the truck.” “I’m sad. I can’t find my bear.”), the less apt children will be to bite.
Parents can help children understand that people experience a wide array of feelings, and there are many ways to express those feelings. Share your feelings—frustration, joy, sadness, fear, envy, contentment, pride—in words with your children so they will model this behavior. Talk to your children about their feelings and help them put feelings into words.
Help children see that there are many ways to express feelings both in words and in other ways. For instance, if they feel sad or lonely, children can hug a stuffed animal or cuddle with a pet. If children feel frustrated, they can express their emotions through drawing pictures or throwing frisbees in the park. Children can also learn that music expresses a variety of feelings.
Another effective way to prevent biting and other behaviors is to praise children for beginning to learn to share and interact with other children. When children show signs of learning social skills such as saying “Thank you,” showing patience, sharing with other children, or indicating they are aware of other people’s needs, be sure to tell them you are proud of them.
7. My child’s biting of other children has become severe; so far nothing seems to work. What do I do?
A child with a severe biting problem may need to be removed from social situations involving other children for awhile. Your child may also need to be closely observed by an adult who can step in to prevent biting when necessary and help guide your child to learn more appropriate ways to cope with frustration such as using words to express feelings or choosing another activity. If your child continues biting beyond the age of three, professional help may be needed.
8. My grandmother tells me I should just bite my child if he bites me. Should I do this?
Never hit or bite a child for biting. This communicates that biting is an acceptable way to work out problems, even if it hurts others.
If a biting incident occurs, stay calm and respond quickly. Give the child who was been bitten your attention first, tend to the wound, and reassure him or her. Then turn your attention to your child, who did the biting. Calmly and firmly tell your child that he or she is not allowed to bite and that biting hurts. “Emma is crying because her hand hurts where you bit her.”
As both children are likely be upset by the incident, give each a comforting hug and then redirect them to a quiet activity so that both have time to calm down. Wait a few minutes and then talk with your child about what caused his or her frustration and how he might express his feelings differently in the future. A hug will reassure a young child you still love him while biting is not acceptable.
Last Updated 05/05/2009