Challenging Behaviours: Biting

Children bite to cope. They may be overwhelmed with a situation or trying to meet their needs. Understanding why this behaviour is happening will help you figure out what you can do about it. Young children may bite when they:

  • do not have the language skills to express how they are feeling, frustration, anger, joy, excitement;
  • are overwhelmed with their surroundings, loud noises, and lights;
  • want to see what will happen if they bite; they are learning;
  • are overtired; or
  • are teething.

It is not helpful to give harsh punishments or bite your child back. There is no research to support that biting back changes anything. Biting back teaches children that it is okay to bite people if they are frustrated or upset. There are other things that parents and caregivers can do instead to lessen or stop this behaviour.

Teeth are Not For Biting” by Elizabeth Verdick

Check out the book “Teeth are Not For Biting” by Elizabeth Verdick, available at NL Public Libraries!

What can I do about it? (click to expand) »

Think about what happens right before your child bites. Ask yourself:

  • What time of day was it?
  • Who was there?
  • What was your child doing?
  • What were others doing?
  • Who was caring for your child?
  • Was your child very tired?

You may be able to find the cause and act to prevent it in the future.

If you notice your child is about to bite, you can:

  • Distract your child with a toy or change of activity.
  • Help your child with expressing their feelings using words, for example, “Lexi, tell Nick that you don’t like it when people touch your face”.
  • Encourage sharing. Set a timer, and when it goes off, have children give the toy they are playing with to another child to teach about taking turns and sharing.
  • Read books about biting.
What should I do if my child bites another child? (click to expand) »
  • Take a deep breath and calm yourself. It is difficult when you know your child has hurt another child.
  • Firmly tell your child, “No biting; it hurts”.
  • Turn your attention to the child that was bitten. Show concern for this child. Paying attention to the child that is hurt (which is necessary). shows your child that aggressive behaviours do not result in more attention being paid to them. It also models sympathy and concern for the child who is hurt, which helps your child learn empathy.
  • When things have settled, talk to your child about what happened and what they can do next time instead of biting.
  • Help the children move to the next activity.

Remember that learning a new behaviour takes time. If the things you try don’t seem to be working, rethink the situation and try again. Talking with other parents, learning about child development, and reaching out to professionals and other community supports may help.

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Last updated: 2022-07-07