What to Do When a Child Bites

How to stop this behavior permanently

What to do when a child bites
It can be hard to know what to do when a child bites, probably because you are horrified by the situation. But there are steps you can take to help ensure it does not happen again. Chris Fertnig/E+/Getty Images

When your child bites someone else, it's easy to feel like the worst parent in the world. Although it's common in the early preschool years, biting is very rarely intentional or premeditated, nor is it unusual—most children will bite someone at least once. Still, that's of little comfort when your child is the one doing the chomping, but it is a behavior that can be corrected.

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 know what words to use. Or, they could be fearful. Other reasons for biting include:

  • Experiencing stress like a new baby, a death in the family, a new house, or parents divorcing or separating
  • Showing love and emotion to a caregiver—strange, but sometimes young children have difficulty dealing with the intense love they feel
  • Having a speech delay that is preventing the child from asking for what they need, causing them to become frustrated
  • Being overstimulated and not knowing how to behave
  • Searching for attention—remember, any attention, even negative attention, is attention
  • 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

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 to stopping a child from biting—stopping the aggressive behavior by finding the root of the problem so you can help your little one curb it.

What To Do When a Child Bites

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.

If your child is the biter, in the heat of the moment you might be tempted to bite your child back. Don't.

That 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. Instead, try these tactics.

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 what to do with. 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 figure out 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.

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.

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  1. KidsHealth. Biting (for Parents). Updated June 2018.