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Why Children Bite

Biting is fairly common in young children. But it is often worrisome to adults. A family member, friend, or classmate at daycare or preschool may be the one bitten. Biting can be painful and frightening when it happens. It upsets other children and often angers teachers and other adults.

Biting is often caused by 1 of 4 different things:

  • Experimental biting. Experimental biting is often done by infants and toddlers as they explore their world. They put everything in their mouths and sometimes bite in the process. You can help decrease biting by telling them, "No—biting hurts!" and being firm. Offer them things that they can safely bite on, such as teething rings.

  • Frustration biting. Frustration biting happens when young children become frustrated and unable to cope with a situation. Until they learn how to play cooperatively, they may respond to the demands of other children by hitting or biting. Some helpful guidelines for decreasing this type of biting include:

    • Keep playtimes short and groups small.

    • Watch young children's play closely.

    • If biting happens, say, "No, don't bite. Biting hurts," and remove your child from the situation right away. Stay with your child and help them to calm down. Explore other, better ways to handle the situation with your child, so they learn to handle emotions differently next time.

  • Powerless biting. Powerless biting happens when a child is in need of feeling powerful. Sometimes the youngest child in the family uses biting to gain power. To help prevent this type of biting:

    • Make sure your child feels protected and isn't always being "picked on" by others.

    • Explain the situation to bigger or older children. Get their help to make things more equal.

    • If biting happens, tell your child that they are not to bite. Remove them from the situation right away. Stay with your child and help them to calm down. Explore other, better ways to handle the situation with your child, so they learn to handle emotions differently next time.

  • Stressful biting. Stressful biting is done when a child is under a lot of emotional stress. Biting may be a sign of distress or pain when the child is upset or angry. If this happens:

    • Try to find out what is bothering your child. Watch for what happens right before the biting happens.

    • Help your child to find other ways to express their feelings. Let them know that biting is wrong. Remove them from the situation right away.

    If your child bites, respond firmly but calmly. Let your child know that you disapprove and remove them from the situation. Help your child learn new ways to handle things. If your child bites repeatedly, talk with your child's healthcare provider about the problem.

Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Paula Goode RN BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2020
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