Biting and toddlers

Biting (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

Reviewed by: Shana L. Boyle, PhD

Psychology (Behavioral Health) at Nemours Children's Health

en español Hábito de morder

Toddlers do the most adorable things: Give unexpected hugs, squeal with laughter, and cuddle up to you when they're tired.

But as any parent of a toddler will tell you, they also do some not-so-adorable things, like kick, scream ... or bite.

Biting is quite common in kids this age, but it can still be rather frustrating and difficult to manage at times. There are ways to get to the bottom of your toddler's biting habit. Here's how to help curb this type of behavior.

Why Do Toddlers Bite?

Biting is very common in early childhood. Babies and toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, such as teething or exploring a new toy or object with their mouth. As they begin to understand cause-and-effect, they also might bite a person to see if they can get a reaction.

Biting also can be a way for toddlers to get attention or express how they feel. Frustration, anger, and fear are strong emotions and toddlers lack the language skills to communicate how they are feeling. Instead, they may bite as a way of saying, "Pay attention to me!" or "I don't like that!" Toddlers may also learn that biting can be used as a tool for accessing a desired item.

Biting is slightly more common in boys and tends to happen most often between the first and second birthday. As language improves, biting tends to lessen.

What Can Help Kids Stop Biting?

Parents should have a zero-tolerance rule for biting — at home, daycare, and elsewhere. If it does happen, be sure to deal with it right away.

The next time your child bites, try these steps:

  • Step 1: Be calm and firm. Address your child with a firm "no biting!" or "biting hurts!" Keep it simple and easy for a toddler to understand. Make it clear that biting is wrong, but avoid lengthy explanations until your child is old enough to understand. Remaining as calm as possible will help resolve the situation more quickly.
  • Step 2: Comfort the victim. Direct your attention to the person who has been bitten, especially if it's another child. If there is an injury, clean the area with soap and water. Get medical care if the bite is deep or bleeding.
  • Step 3: Comfort the biter, if need be. Often, toddlers don't realize that biting hurts. It's OK to comfort a child who feels upset about hurting someone. An older toddler might learn from being allowed to comfort or apologize to a friend after a bite. But if the biter is using the behavior to get attention, you don't want to reinforce this behavior by giving comfort and attention.
  • Step 4: Offer alternatives. When things have calmed down, suggest alternatives to biting, like using the words "no," "stop," and "that's mine" when wanting to communicate with others. For example, show your child how to approach a peer, put out their hand, and then say “please” to ask for an item.
  • Step 5: Redirect. Distraction works wonders with kids this age. If emotions and energy levels are running high or if boredom has set in, help redirect a little one's attention to a more positive activity, like dancing to music, coloring, or playing a game.

Discipline usually is not necessary, as most kids don't realize biting hurts. Never hit or bite a child who has bitten, as this teaches the child that this behavior is OK.

If you try these steps and the behavior doesn't stop, time-outs may help. Older toddlers can go to a designated time-out area — a kitchen chair or bottom stair — to calm down. As a general rule, about 1 minute per year of age is a good guide for time-outs. You might need to supervise your toddler during a time-out, but be careful to not give them any attention. Your child should be calm and quiet before leaving the time-out area.

To keep your little one on the right track:

  • Be consistent. Reinforce the "No biting" rule at all times.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Rather than reward negative actions with attention, make it a point to praise your child when they behave well. You can say something like, "I like how you used your words" or "I like how you're playing gently" to reinforce positive alternatives to biting.
  • Plan ahead. Toddlers might be more comfortable and not feel the urge to bite if they know what to expect in new or high-energy situations. If biting happens at childcare, you might consider putting your child in a calmer, smaller setting.
  • Find alternatives. As language skills develop, you can help your child find better ways to express difficult emotions. For example, asking kids to "use their words" when they're frustrated or upset can help calm them. If you need help, a doctor, counselor, or behavioral specialist can discuss ways to teach your child to manage strong emotions and express feelings in a healthy way.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Biting is common in babies and toddlers, but it should stop when kids are about 3 or 4 years old. If it goes beyond this age, is excessive, seems to be getting worse rather than better, and happens with other upsetting behaviors, talk to your child's doctor. Together you can find its causes and ways to deal with it.

Reviewed by: Shana L. Boyle, PhD

Date reviewed: June 2022

Toddler Biting: Finding the Right Response

Trying your best to understand the underlying cause of a toddler’s biting will help you develop an effective response. Children bite in order to cope with a challenge or fulfill a need.

Toddler biting is a very common behavior, which means there are a lot of concerned parents out there. You are not alone. The good news is that there is a lot that parents and caregivers can do to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate biting.

To set the stage for effectively addressing this challenge, avoid calling or thinking of your child as a “biter” and ask others not to use this term. Labeling children can actually lead to them taking on the identity assigned to them, which can intensify biting behavior rather than eliminate it.

Shaming and harsh punishment do not reduce biting.

Children bite in order to cope with a challenge or fulfill a need. For example, your child may be biting to express a strong feeling (like frustration), communicate a need for personal space (maybe another child is standing too close) or to satisfy a need for oral stimulation. Trying your best to understand the underlying cause of the biting will help you develop an effective response. This makes it more likely that you will be successful in eliminating the behavior.

Why do toddlers bite?

There are many reasons why toddlers might bite. Some are listed below. If you think one of these reasons might by why your child is biting, read specific strategies on how to respond later in the article. Toddlers might bite if they:

  • Lack language skills necessary for expressing important needs or strong feelings like anger, frustration, joy, etc. Biting is a substitute for the messages he can’t yet express in words like: I am so mad at you, You are standing too close to meI am really excited, or I want to play with you.
  • Are overwhelmed by the sounds, light or activity level in this setting
  • Are experimenting to see what will happen
  • Need more active playtime
  • Are over-tired
  • Are teething
  • Have an need for oral stimulation

What Can I Do to Prevent Biting?

Questions to Consider

As you watch your child at play, you can begin to anticipate when a bite might occur. The following questions can guide you in identifying the kinds of situations often lead to biting:

  1. What happened right before the bite?
  2. Who was your child playing with?
  3. Who was bit? Is it always the same child, or different children each time?
  4. What was your child doing?
  5. Where was your child?
  6. Who was caring for your child?
Strategies to Prevent Toddler Biting

If you see signs that your child might be on the verge of biting, you can:

1. Distract your child with a toy or book. Suggest looking out the window or take a walk to another room or outside. The goal is to reduce the tension and shift your child’s attention.

When parents shift their focus and energy to the child who was bitten, they clearly communicate that biting does not result in more attention. (Credit: Szefei /

2. Suggest how your child might handle the situation that is triggering the need to bite. For example: Marcus, you can tell Ana: “You are a little too close to me. I don’t like it when you touch my hair.” If you think your child might be biting due to a need for oral stimulation, offer your child something he can safely bite and chew—a cracker, some carrot sticks, or a teether.

3. Suggest ways to share. Take out a kitchen timer to give children a visual reminder of how long they can each play with a particular toy. In a group caregiving setting, you will want to make sure that the classroom has more than one of the most popular toys. Sharing is one of the most common triggers for biting.

4. Reading books about biting can also help. As you read, ask your child how the different characters might be feeling. If you have an older toddler, you can ask him to “read” the book to you, by telling you what is happening based on the pictures. Some titles to recommend include:

  • Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick
  • No Biting by Karen Katz
  • No Biting, Louise by Margie Palatini

What Do I Do When My Toddler Bites?

First, keep your own feelings in check. When a toddler bites, you might feel frustrated, infuriated, annoyed, embarrassed, and/or worried. All of these feelings are normal, but responding when you are in an intense emotional state is usually not a good idea. So calm yourself before you respond—count to 10, take a deep breath, or do whatever works for you.

Identifying the kinds of situations that often lead to biting will help you find the best way to prevent biting. (Credit: Issarapong Srirungpanich /

In a firm, matter-of-fact voice (but not angry or yelling), say: No biting. Biting hurts. Comment on how the other child is feeling: Look, Madison is crying. She is crying because you bit her. Biting hurts. Keep it short, simple and clear.

Next, shift your attention to the child who was bitten. Often when a child bites, adults pay a lot of attention to him or her. This is usually negative attention, but it is still very reinforcing and can actually cause the biting behavior to continue, rather than stop. When parents shift their focus and energy to the child who was bitten, they clearly communicate that biting does not result in more attention. Showing concern and sympathy for the child who was bitten also teaches empathy.

Remember, learning a new behavior takes time.

If your child is verbal and able to talk about his experiences, go back and talk with him about the different strategies he can use next time, instead of biting: If Tyler grabs your cuddly and won’t let it go, you can say: “Tyler, that is my cuddly. Give it to me.” If he won’t give it back, you can come get me and I will help you. Or: When you want to play, you can say: “Will you play with me?” Then your friend knows you are ready to play.

Help the children move on. Ask: What would you like to play now? It might help to offer activities, like play-dough, drawing, or playing in sand or water, that allow them to release energy in constructive ways and can help them relax. The toddler who bit and the child who was hurt should not be made to play with one another, unless they want to.

Remember, learning a new behavior takes time. Your toddler may bite again, so continue watching playtime closely. It also helps to use the same words (No biting. Biting hurts.) as consistently as possible to emphasize the message.

Strategies to Respond Based on Your Child’s Development

1. Support Communication and Language Skills

If you think biting is a substitute for not having the language skills to express himself you can:

  • Put into words what you guess your child might be thinking: Tanya, do you want to have a turn on the tricycle? You can ask Henry, “Can I have a turn now?”
  • Help your child express his feelings in appropriate ways.  If your child is really angry, you can say: Max, you are so mad! You are really, really angry. Then suggest a way to deal with these feelings: Making angry lion faces and growling, ripping up newspapers, punching the couch cushions, banging a drum, jumping up and down—whatever is acceptable to you.
  • Reinforce your child when he uses words to share his feelings: You asked me for a turn blowing bubbles instead of grabbing them. Great job. Here you go.
  • Give your child age-appropriate choices, for example, about what to wear or who to play with. Having choices gives children a sense of control and can reduce biting.
  • Consider a speech-language assessment if you think your child’s verbal skills might be delayed.
2. Help Your Child Cope With Feeling Overwhelmed

If your child is easily overwhelmed by lights, sound, and activity, you can:

  • Keep television and radio off or on low volumes.
  • Avoid big crowds and high-activity settings like the mall or the playground on a sunny Saturday morning.
  • Schedule activities with a lot of sensory input (like clothes-shopping or trips to dentist or doctor) for your child’s “best” times of day, when he is fed and well-rested.
  • Talk with your child’s other caregivers about his difficulty managing a lot of sensory input. Brainstorm ways to reduce the stimulation in his other caregiving settings.
  • Give your child a firm “bear” hug when you sense she is feeling stressed and out of control and perhaps about to bite. This can help children feel “held together” which can be very soothing.
  • Create a “cozy corner” in your house with pillows, books and other quiet toys like stuffed animals, or use a playtent as a safe place to take a break. Explain that this is a place your child can go if he wants to be alone or feels out of control and needs to cool down. Ensure that your child’s other caregiving settings have a “cozy corner” as well.
3. Explain the Effects of Their Actions

If your child is experimenting to see what will happen when he bites, you can:

  • Provide immediate, firm, unemotional (as best you can) feedback (No biting. Biting hurts.). Shift attention away from your child to the child who was bit.
  • Help your child understand about cause-and-effect: You bit Macy and now she is crying. When you bite, it hurts your friends. Biting is never okay.
4. Provide Opportunities for Active Play

If your child needs more active play, you can:

  • Set aside time each day to be active. Take a walk after breakfast. Turn music on while you are cooking dinner and have your child dance with you.
  • Talk with your child’s other caregivers to ensure that active play is a part of everyday. Toddlers who bite should not be punished by losing “recess” time. This may make the problem worse.
  • Build activity into your child’s everyday routines—for example, doing 10 jumping jacks before lunch or stretching before bed.
5. Address Sleep Challenges

If your child is over-tired, you can:

  • Try incrementally moving her bedtime 30 to 60 minutes earlier over a few weeks.
  • Set up a schedule of naps or, if she won’t nap, “quiet times” when she is in her crib or bed with a book and soft music playing.
  • Avoid play-dates or other potentially stressful activities on days when she is very tired.
  • Tell your child’s other caregivers when she has not slept well or is tired so they can shadow her, in order to reduce the possibility of a biting incident.
6. Support Healthy Teething

If your child is teething, you can:

  • Offer him a teether or cold washcloth to bite.
  • Talk to your child’s caregivers to make sure they understand he is teething and to identify appropriate teethers in the classroom.
7. Provide Oral Stimulation

If your child has a need for oral stimulation:

  • Offer her crunchy (healthy) snacks at regular intervals across the day. Research has found that this intervention can actually reduce biting incidents.

When to Seek Help

While biting is very common behavior, it usually stops by age 3 to 3 ½. If your toddler continues to bite, or the number of bites increases instead of decreases over time, it is probably a good idea to request an assessment from a child development specialist.

This professional can help you identify the reason for the biting and develop a strategy for addressing the behavior. Remember, there is no quick fix. Over time, and with assistance, your child will stop biting and use more appropriate ways to express her needs.

What absolutely WILL NOT work to stop biting?

Shaming or harsh punishment do not reduce toddler 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.

Insect bites in children: prevention and treatment

With the onset of summer heat, the problem of preventing and treating insect bites has become an urgent problem for most parents.

Prevention outdoors

While the child is small, it is easy to cover him with a mosquito cover right in the stroller. In some cases it is convenient to use protective clothing or tents with mosquito nets. In all other situations, repellents become almost the only measure of protection. Modern repellents typically use one of these two main active ingredients, DEET or picaridin.

DEET (diethyltoluamide) is the most commonly used broad spectrum ingredient that is effective against mosquitoes, biting flies, fleas and ticks. In most cases, repellent with up to 10% DEET will prevent mosquito bites. In areas of high risk of insect-borne infections (where malaria, Ross River virus, Barma Forest virus, and Dengue fever occur), repellents with a DEET concentration of 15-30% should be used.

DEET can be safely applied to cotton, wool, and nylon, but can damage spandex, rayon, acetate, and leather clothing. DEET can dissolve plastics and vinyl (such as sunglasses frames or watch bands).

Picaridin is a new repellent ingredient that is odorless and less sticky than DEET. Can be more pleasant to use, does not dissolve plastic. Studies have shown that picaridin is as effective as DEET; however, its protection is less long lasting and will need to be reapplied more frequently. Products containing 10% picaridin will prevent insect bites in most situations.

Repellent safety in children

Read the label before use, check the level of DEET or picaridin in the formulation, and use the repellent only as directed by the manufacturer.

Follow these simple rules:

  • Prefer roll-ons over aerosols if you have a choice.
  • Apply a moderate amount to exposed skin.
  • Do not apply to cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply around the eyes or mouth (in case of accidental contact with eyes, rinse immediately with plenty of water!).
  • Do not apply to the palms or fingers of small children.
  • When you return home, wash the repellent off your skin with soap and water.
  • Keep repellents out of the reach of children.
  • If you need to apply both sunscreen and insect repellant, apply sunscreen first. Products that combine sunscreen and repellant are not recommended by experts, as sunscreen usually needs to be reapplied, but repellant does not.
Physical protection

Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, so wear light-colored clothing that covers your wrists and ankles to reduce the chance of bites. If you are planning to travel to high-risk areas, it is recommended that you seek medical advice before starting your trip; you may need extra vaccinations and/or malaria chemoprophylaxis.

Mosquitoes are attracted to stagnant water, so stay away from dams, ponds, swamps and other stagnant water areas.

To keep mosquitoes from breeding near your home:

  • Cover all water containers (including swimming pools) to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.
  • Empty all water containers when not in use.
  • Change the water in used containers at least once a week.
  • Cover pit latrines and septic tanks to keep mosquitoes from laying their eggs.
  • Remove excess vegetation from garden ponds and stock ponds with fish.
  • Avoid over watering the garden.

Prevention in the house

Mosquito nets and fumigators are the basis of protection against midges in the house. Attention! Remember that a mosquito net increases the risk of a child falling out of a window, as it creates the illusion of a barrier - use window blockers.

Fumigators can work on plates or liquid, slowly dispersing a substance toxic to insects around them. The most commonly used substance in fumigators is ethok (aka pralletrin).

A common question to a pediatrician is “my child found and chewed a plate from a fumigator, what does it threaten him with?” The fumigator plate contains about 9 mg of pralletrin. The oral toxic dose of pralletrin for humans is 600 mg/kg (LD50). Thus, neither eating these plates nor inhaling fumigator fumes is usually capable of causing serious harm to the child, but contact with the mouth and mucous membranes of repellents and chemicals for fumigators should still be avoided.

More information about the use of repellents and fumigators can be found on the Rospotrebnadzor website.

Treatment of insect bites

Many children (and some adults) have pronounced local reactions to bites of midges (mosquitoes, midges, horseflies): immediately after the bite, within a radius of 1-3 cm, an urticarial element forms around it (as in urticaria, intradermal swelling), lasts for several hours and intensely itches. Then it turns into a papule, it is smaller in size, but more resistant. On top of this papule there are often scratching and bloody or serous crusts. The papule usually disappears within a few days, and the crusts can remain for a very long time - if a person combs them with his nails several times a day, rips them off, and they form again. The use of external or systemic drugs after insect bites reduces the likelihood of serious scratching, secondary infection, reduces unpleasant symptoms (itching, swelling at the bite site, burning and hyperemia) and speeds up recovery. This is especially important for children who are prone to more violent local reactions, they can restrain the urge to scratch the bite site to a bloody scab much worse.

Immediately after the bite

As soon as you find urticaria marks on the child's skin from fresh bites (came home from the street or picked up an awakened baby in your arms), apply a cooling anti-itch talker (Calamine or Zindol) to the bites. Repeat the application once an hour on this day, most likely in a day you will hardly be able to find the bite (all changes on the skin will disappear).

If the urticaria does develop into a papule or crust

If you didn't apply the mash, or you did, but the papule still formed and itches, start using a low-potency steroid cream (hydrocortisone ophthalmic ointment, Sinaflan or Afloderm) on the site . The steroid is applied 1-2 times a day, one element of the rash requires an amount of ointment no more than half a grain of rice. The course usually takes 2-4 days, during which time the element will almost completely pass. For severe itching or localized swelling, you can use a second-generation antihistamine such as Zodak (as instructed) for several days in a row.

If a midge has bitten near the eye or on the lip, and a frightening edema has developed

In this case, the child may stop opening his eyes, problems with pronunciation of words may appear (a swollen lip makes it difficult to speak clearly). Most often, it is enough just to wait, or apply cold and wait - and after 15–30 minutes such local edema begins to subside, and after an hour it disappears completely. In severe cases, or if you want to speed up recovery, you can (in addition to cold) use an antihistamine by mouth and a topical steroid externally.

If bitten by a hymenoptera (wasp, bee, bumblebee, hornet, etc.)

The bite or sting of a hymenoptera is much more unpleasant and dangerous than the bites of an ordinary midge. They cause severe pain, a strong local reaction (redness, itching, swelling) and take much longer to pass. With multiple bites, in addition to local reactions, there may be severe systemic reactions (malaise, fever, weakness, loss of appetite), which disappear in a few days. In addition, some people are allergic to hymenoptera venom and may develop anaphylactic reactions and even die from such bites. Help with single bites in the absence of anaphylaxis (fainting or fainting, a pronounced change in general well-being) does not generally differ from help with a midge bite, but the effect will have to wait noticeably longer. If severe systemic reactions occur, an urgent visit to a doctor is necessary, and if anaphylaxis and / or Quincke's edema in the larynx (hoarseness and severe difficulty in breathing) appear, an ambulance should be called immediately. A person who has experienced anaphylaxis at least once in his life, the doctor will write a prescription for adrenaline (ideally a syringe pen with adrenaline) and teach him and his family how to use this drug while waiting for an ambulance.

Important: when stung by a bee, you need to remove the sting from the wound as soon as possible, assistance begins with this step.

A common complication of insect bites: papular urticaria

Papular urticaria is a rash that occurs in response to insect bites in places where the insect did not bite, this is such a "slow allergy" to bites. Most often, it occurs in response to flea bites (including earthen ones), ticks and scabies, but a simple midge can lead to it. Papular urticaria is not dangerous, but it can be uncomfortable, itchy, cosmetic and last for several months. It will go away on its own sooner or later, but a long course of antihistamines and sometimes topical treatment can be helpful in relieving symptoms and hastening recovery. You can read more here.

General advice

Try not to let your child scratch the bite, especially the eyes. This gives immediate relief, but leads to scratching, infection, and noticeably lengthens the recovery time.


Butriy Sergey Alexandrovich

allergies, infection or insect bites?

Baby Rash: Allergy, Infection, or Insect Bites?

Insect bites

In late spring, summer and early autumn, children often suffer from insect bites. The skin is covered with bumps and spots. Usually only exposed areas of the body and face are affected. Most often, the rash is accompanied by itching. The general condition and well-being of the child does not change.

What does it look like?

What to do?

Antiallergic ointments or gels are recommended. If the baby combs the bites, it is necessary to lubricate them with brilliant green to prevent the accumulation of bacterial infection and inflammation.

Allergic rash

Activated after eating new foods - mussels, shrimps, exotic berries and fruits, cow's milk, eggs. It appears in the form of intensely itchy pink and red spots that tend to merge. The state of health may worsen, especially with severe allergies. The baby is lethargic or, on the contrary, overly excited. Sleep and appetite are disturbed, diarrhea and vomiting are possible.

What does it look like?

What to do?

Prescribe a sparing hypoallergenic diet, antihistamines. As an addition - drugs that bind and remove food allergens from the body - enterosorbents. If irritation is caused by contact with detergent or cosmetics, eliminate the allergen.

Prickly heat

Usually manifests itself with the onset of heat. Beige-pink pimples are located very close to each other. Most of the rashes are in the upper chest, on the shoulders and neck. Sometimes tiny blisters may come out. They don't bother the child.

What does it look like?

What to do?

Ventilate the skin regularly and monitor the room temperature - it should be +20°C. To remove excess moisture, you need to use powder. Reddened skin should not be lubricated with cream. Clothing should be made only from natural materials.


Pale, band-like, intensely itchy swellings. Pink blisters may appear, which become covered with a red bloody crust when combed. The baby sleeps and eats badly. Over time, intradermal edema subsides, and swelling disappears without a trace. Urticaria can be caused by infections, allergies, or physical irritants.

What does it look like?

What to do?

In agreement with the doctor, antihistamines are used.


Before the rash appears, the child complains of headache and malaise. He may have a runny nose and a slight fever. Sometimes they misdiagnose SARS. At first, only a few spots are noticeable, every day there are more and more of them.

In severe cases, the rash affects the mucous membranes. After a couple of days, the spots turn into tubercles filled with transparent contents. Then they burst, forming crusts. The rash with chickenpox is accompanied by itching.

What does it look like?

What to do?

Treat with brilliant green.

Learn more