Biting is a very common, also typical behavior in early childhood. Though, for caregivers, it can be a challenging behavior to deal with. Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, it’s important to remember biting is a developmentally normal behavior in children under 3. It happens often, so, take a deep breath. We’re here to help!
How common is biting?
The American Physiological Association says “between a third and a half of all toddlers in day care are bitten by another child, studies indicate; in fact, epidemiological studies peg that number at closer to half of all children in day care.”
Why do children bite?
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) explains children can bit for a variety of reasons.
A child might bite to:
- Relieve pain from teething.
- Explore cause and effect (“What happens when I bite?”).
- Experience the sensation of biting.
- Satisfy a need for oral-motor stimulation.
- Imitate other children and adults.
- Feel strong and in control.
- Get attention.
- Act in self-defense.
- Communicate needs and desires, such as hunger or fatigue.
- Communicate or express difficult feelings, such as frustration, anger, confusion, or fear (“There are too many people here and I feel cramped”).
Can I prevent biting?
There are some simple strategies to try to prevent biting from happening. If your child is teething, make sure they have access to a teething ring. If you don’t have one handy, you can always wet a washcloth, freeze it, and let the child bite and suck on it to ease some pain. Providing oral stimulation often for children who bite can also help. Offer them healthy, crunchy snacks throughout the day. It is essential to assess the reason behind the biting to help prevent it. We’ve included some resources for more detailed information.
When a bite happens: What works? What doesn’t?
With any child, the parent or teacher should stay calm and dial down the anger. Ever child is different and what works with one, may not work with another. Caregivers should try different strategies to find what works for that specific child. Like we mentioned before, it is important to identify why a child is biting so we can best help them. Ask yourself questions like:
- What happened right before the bite?
- Who was your child playing with?
- Who was bit? Is it always the same child, or different children each time?
- What was your child doing?
- Where was your child?
- Who was caring for your child?
While identifying what works may not be a simple task, Zero to Three (zerotothree.org) shared a few things that do not work with biters:
- Shaming or harsh punishment do not reduce biting, but they do increase your child’s fear and worry—which can actually increase biting incidents. Aggressive responses like these also do not teach your child the social skills he or she needs to cope with the situations that trigger biting.Biting your child back, which some might suggest, is not a useful response. There is no research to show this behavior reduces biting. However, it does teach your child that it’s okay to bite people when you are upset! Keep in mind that human bites can be dangerous, and biting constitutes child abuse. This is not an appropriate response to toddler biting.
Children’s books about biting
Resources for further learning