What to Do When a Child Bites

Woman holding the hand of an upset toddler boy

Chris Fertnig / E+ / Getty Images

When your child bites someone else, it's easy to feel like the worst parent in the world. It can be particularly distressing not only for the victims but also for the parents of the biter and the parents of the injured child.

In the early preschool years, though, biting is a surprisingly typical problem. According to one study in Minneapolis, biting incidents were the most commonly reported injuries in daycare centers, comprising 35% of all injuries.

That's of little comfort when your child is the one doing the chomping, but it is a behavior that can be corrected. Here's a closer look at why it happens and what you can do to stop a child from biting.

Why Children Bite

For the majority of children, biting—or any aggressive behavior, for that matter—occurs because they are simply overwhelmed by a situation. In fact, biting is the last, most aggressive option that happens when a child feels overwhelmed, and it happens because the child doesn't know what else to do.

They could be angry or they may not have the words to communicate their feelings. Or, they could be fearful. Other reasons for biting include:

  • Being overstimulated and not knowing how to behave or get relief
  • Experiencing stress like a new baby, a new playgroup, a new house, or parents divorcing or separating
  • Having a speech delay that is preventing the child from asking for what they need, causing them to become frustrated
  • Retaliating after someone bit them first or because they feel threatened
  • Seeing biting as a way to take control of a situation and be in charge
  • Searching for attention—remember, any attention, even negative attention, is attention
  • Showing love and emotion to a caregiver—sounds strange, but sometimes young children have difficulty dealing with the intense love they feel

Certainly, these reasons don't make biting acceptable, but it may help you understand why your child is acting this way. And that's a key stopping aggressive behavior like biting—finding the root of the problem, so you can help your little one curb it.

How to Stop Them From Biting

If you are on the scene when your child bites, your reaction needs to be quick and levelheaded. Try to stay calm. Make sure the person that your child bit is OK. Care for them first, offering first aid, a band-aid, or whatever the person needs. Then, take action with the following steps.

Don't Bite Your Child Back

Many parents falsely believe that the only way to show a child that biting hurts other people is to bite them back. Resist that temptation, though. It will make the situation much worse, because not only are you now modeling the very aggressive behavior you don't want your child to do, but you're also acting in anger.

The lesson here is to teach your child that violence shouldn't beget violence. Use a positive approach instead.

Ask What Happened

Once the dust has settled, if you didn't see the events leading up to the biting, ask your child to walk you through it. What was going through their head when they bit the other child? Do they remember what they were thinking? What should they have done differently?

Talk About What to Do Next Time

As a preschooler matures, they start to develop a whole host of emotions that they may not quite know how to handle. This is especially true for anger. Explain that when they are starting to feel mad, angry, or frustrated, that's the time they need to ask a grown-up for help.

Some kids (especially older preschoolers) are reluctant to go to a grown-up when they are being teased or having trouble with another child, because they don't want to be labeled a tattletale. Keeping that in mind, the next time your child comes to you complaining about something someone has done to them, be sure to pay attention and take their concerns seriously. It could curb a biting incident in the future.

For younger preschoolers, a book like "Teeth Are Not For Biting" may help you explain the situation clearly. Plus, it's something you can go back to as needed in the future.

Figure Out the Triggers

If your child is a habitual biter, think about what it is that sets them off. It most likely isn't a random occurrence. If you can figure out what causes your child to bite, you can determine how best to stop them from biting in the first place.

Then, when you are at playgroup or on a playdate, keep a close watch on your child. If you think they are going to bite, intervene immediately and redirect them to a different activity.

Encourage Using Words

Because most kids bite because they lack the verbal skills to communicate their frustration, the best way to prevent biting is to give them other options for communicating their feelings. Of course, you want to always encourage kids to use their words, but sometimes they need other options too.

Teach them some other tools, like hugging a stuffed animal or punching a pillow, as a way to express their frustration.

Sometimes, shortening activities or giving your child a break can help prevent the rising frustration that can lead to biting and other bad behaviors. So stay tuned to your child's tolerance level. Try to redirect their attention or encourage a different activity if your child seems to be getting overstimulated or frustrated.

Provide Quality Attention

Sometimes kids will bite simply to get your attention. Even though biting results in negative attention, to a child it is still attention. So make sure you spend quality time with your child playing, cuddling, or reading books. This extra attention is particularly vital if your family is welcoming a new baby into the home or you're going through another type of transition.

Say No and Leave

Seems simple to just say no and leave, but when it comes to preschoolers, you need to spell it out. Tell them that biting is wrong, end of story. Don't yell or scream. Stay as calm as you can and firmly say, "No. We don't bite. You hurt Sally. Now we have to leave," and remove your child from the situation.

A Word From Verywell

It can feel both overwhelming and confusing when your child bites another person. But rest assured that you are still a good parent. Many kids bite other people from time to time. The key is that you are working diligently to not only address the behavior but to put an end to it.

If, despite your best efforts, the biting continues and your methods aren't working, it's time to ask for help. Consult your pediatrician or your child's teacher for advice. Together you can figure out the best way to address the behavior.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Canadian Paediatric Society, Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee. A bite in the playroom: Managing human bites in child care settingsPaediatr Child Health. 2008;13(6):515-526. PMID:19436423.

  2. KidsHealth. Biting (for parents).

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.