Why kids bite

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

Toddlers who bite: what it means and when to worry

As toddlers learn to test their limits, they may act out in certain ways. It’s expected. After all, they don’t call them the terrible two’s for nothing. Occasionally, toddlers may have a tantrum, kick, or even bite. In fact, studies show that biting is common among young children. Nevertheless, parents of toddlers who have been labeled biters may suddenly feel very isolated. They may be shamed out of a playgroup or forced to remove their child from day care. Fortunately, there are several ways parents can get to the root of their toddler's biting habit and help put an end to this unwanted behavior. 

Why do some toddlers bite? 

Biting is a normal part of childhood and a way for young children to test limits or express their feelings. Many children show signs of this behavior as early as their first birthday and usually stop biting around 3 years of age. 

Among the most common reasons why toddlers bite: 

  • Attention. If toddlers are not getting enough interaction, biting is a quick way to gain attention (even if it’s negative attention).
  • Teething. Babies begin teething around 5 months of age. Biting on objects or even people can help ease the discomfort associated with tender, swollen gums.
  • Exploration. Babies and toddlers learn through their senses, which is one reason why everything seems to end up in their mouths. This process of mouthing, however, is very different from deliberate biting.
  • Imitation. Some toddlers who have seen another child bite may decide to try it themselves. Additionally, exposure to violence or harsh discipline may also cause a child to bite. 

In most cases, toddlers bite because their language skills are still developing and it’s simply another way to express how they are feeling. Unable to quickly form the words they need to convey their thoughts, very young children may resort to biting as a way of saying, “Stop that!” or “I need some attention!” 

What do you do if your toddler bites? 

As soon as a bite occurs, parents or caregivers should take the following steps: 

  • Attend to the victim. Parents should first direct their attention to the person who has been bitten. Toddlers often bite to receive attention. By comforting the victim first, parents will be taking the first step in curbing the negative behavior. Parents or caregivers should also wash the affected area with soap and water.
  • Be firm and calm. Parents should respond to the behavior with a firm, “No biting!” Keep it very simple and easy to understand. By staying as calm as possible, parents will be able to resolve the situation more quickly.
  • Redirect. Bites often occur when emotions and energy levels are running high, or if boredom has set in. When this happens, parents should intervene and help toddles re-focus their attention on a positive activity. 

Over time, parents can reinforce the no biting rule by following these steps: 

  • Check for patterns. The best way to get to the root of a biting habit is to look for patterns or clues as to how, when, and why a child bites. For example, toddlers who only bite at day care may be reacting to the discomfort they feel in a chaotic classroom. Once triggers are identified, parents can take steps to make their child more comfortable so they don’t feel the urge to bite. 
  • Use positive reinforcement. By praising children for good behavior, they may not feel the need to seek negative attention and bite.
  • Look ahead. Anxiety can cause children to act out. As a result, toddlers may be less likely to bite if they know what their day will be like and what to expect in new or high-energy situations.
  • Use sign language. As a child’s language skills develop, parents and caregivers can teach their children a few simple signs to help them communicate. Offering toddlers alternative ways to express themselves can help reduce their frustration and urge to bite. 

Keep in mind it's common for toddlers ages 1–3 years old to bite or go through a biting phase. But if you notice excessive biting and other aggressive behaviors, these may be signs of a more serious developmental issue. 

Frequent biting and aggressive behavior

If a toddler’s biting habit becomes extreme or persists despite interventions, parents should consult their child’s pediatrician to rule out underlying conditions such as an expressive speech delay, sensory processing disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.

  • Expressive speech delay. About 10 percent of toddlers are affected by an expressive speech delay. In these cases, children are able to process information and understand language, but they haven’t expanded their own vocabulary as quickly as most other kids their age. For instance, by 3 years of age, toddlers typically expand their vocabulary from less than 10 words to about 400 words. They also begin forming complete sentences. Children who do not meet these milestones may become frustrated when they are not able to express themselves, and they may resort to biting as a means of communication. Fortunately, in the majority of cases, expressive speech delay can be overcome with early intervention by a speech therapist.
  • Sensory processing disorder (SPD). Toddlers with SPD often bite to convey their distress in certain environments. SPD can affect a wide-range of age groups, from premature infants to teenagers. These children are either under or overly sensitive to what they see, hear, smell, or touch. For example, children with an auditory sensitivity may find a fireworks display or loud room very upsetting. As a result, they may bite to cope with their discomfort. Many children affected by SPD can overcome their sensory problems with specially designed coping strategies from trained health care professionals.
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a general term for a range of conditions affecting social skills, communication, and behavior. In these cases, biting is not an isolated behavior, but a symptom of a larger problem. For instance, parents of autistic children usually notice a lack of skills or development delays between 15–18 months of age. The condition often makes it much more difficult for children to communicate without special help. (Learn more about early signs of autism here.)

If your child has an underlying condition or is just having trouble kicking the biting habit, your pediatrician may refer you to a behavioral specialist who can identify key strategies to help your child find better ways to express and manage his feelings.

Last updated November 21, 2020

Why does a child bite? – "Internet office of a healthy child"

Ufimtseva Olesya Borisovna

Social teacher of the consultative and health department of the City Center for Medical Prevention

To understand why the baby began to bite, it is necessary to assess the situation in which this happened, and also take into account the age of the child. The reasons why a 10-month-old baby bites will be radically different from the reasons why a two- to four-year-old child starts biting. And the ways to deal with this behavior will also be different.

Consider the reasons why young children bite.

Baby biting at 5-8 months

Most likely, the reason for this is the discomfort and pain associated with teething. The child becomes capricious, whiny, he is ready to bite and gnaw everything that comes to hand. When a child bites, he thereby tries to reduce the load on the gums, or get rid of the unpleasant sensations that occur in the mouth during teething. If a small child bites because his gums are swollen and red, keep teething toys handy at all times. But up to a year and a half, the problem with painful teething can persist in any case, so this period can simply be waited out without taking special measures.

Baby biting at 1 year old

If the child’s teeth no longer bother, but a one-year-old child bites during a game or just like that, this may indicate overwork, a one-year-old child needs to bite when he is angry or tired. Children, due to their age, still do not have enough language skills to express the surging feelings and emotions in words, for example, such feelings as: irritation, fear, helplessness. An overabundance of emotions that the baby cannot cope with becomes the reason why a one-year-old child bites. If your baby, in a joyful or angry outburst, can bite a parent or playmate painfully, this should not be ignored. In order to wean a child from biting at this age, show your dissatisfaction, tell the child a firm “no”, interrupt the game, show that you are offended and do not intend to continue the game. If a child bites other children, take him out of the game and explain that this will happen every time he bites.

Another way to wean a one-year-old child from biting is to offer him interesting and at the same time soothing activities that require creative work (sculpting, constructor, playing with sand and water, drawing with pencils and crayons, etc.), and also often offer to chew on solid food, for example, drying, carrot or apple.

Child bites at 2 years old

At the age of 2 years, children may bite an adult or other children because of a desire to control the actions of another person, or because of a feeling of irritation that has arisen. Two-year-olds also find it difficult to put their feelings into words. Due to the lack of language skills, biting children express their feelings, give vent to accumulated emotions.

In order to wean a 2-year-old child from biting, he needs to be made clear that such behavior is unacceptable. If your child has bitten a friend, come up with him in order to feel sorry for the victim and ask for forgiveness: the baby must know what to do to correct the situation.

Child bites at 3-4 years old

If a child 3 years of age or older bites, pay close attention to their peer relationships. Maybe the child has problems in communication, and he has to defend himself in this way.

If the child does not defend himself, but attacks, he may have problems with self-control. In this case, in order to determine how to wean a child from biting, it is necessary to consult with a specialist (neurologist and psychologist).

Dear parents! Try to understand the reason why a small child bites. On the one hand, biting for a child is a replacement for the verbal way of expressing negative emotions. With undeveloped speech at a certain age, it is difficult to explain why you are angry or offended, that you don’t like it, that you want this baby to return your toy. On the other hand, biting is a manifestation of aggression as a way to declare something that is not noticed. But what the child reacts to like that - parents need to find out. Watch your baby carefully: when, where and what, what behavior of others he starts to bite. After all, bites are the baby's reaction to the trouble in the relationship in which the child is currently located. The source can be both in the family and in kindergarten. And the more affection and care you show to the child, the more likely it is that he will not bite. Psychological comfort in the family, a healthy daily routine, sufficient sleep and long walks will also contribute to reducing the child's aggressiveness.

The child bites - what are the reasons for this behavior?

The child bites - what are the reasons for this behavior?

There are many pediatric doctors, each of them has its own specialization - this is a pediatrician, a neuropathologist, and a children's ENT in Almaty. Our city provides good opportunities in terms of treatment and monitoring the development of babies, as there are many doctors of a narrow profile in the city who not only monitor the correct development of babies, but can help identify and prevent serious problems in their development.

We will talk about one of these problems today. Most babies before reaching the age of three can at least bite someone once. Many babies stop biting on their own. If your child has been biting frequently since the age of three, treatment may be needed. Biting is not always a planned action, quite rarely it leads to serious damage to some other person or is a threat to health. Biting is common among toddlers under three years of age. Biting becomes a serious problem if it is repeated often and continues after the age of three, because of this, others may suffer, or the bite itself may also be accompanied by aggressive behavior.

Why does the baby bite?

Children may bite for a variety of reasons, depending on their age. * At 5-7 months. children bite others, feeling discomfort near the mouth. When they are worried about pain due to teething. Babies often bite their loved ones. Hearing the reaction of the person they bitten the baby stop doing so. * At 8-14 months. Children bite because of overexcitation. Often they bite their relatives or other children who are close to them. The firm word "no" often stops the biting habit among these little ones. * At 15-36 months. children bite others because of irritation, the desire to control the actions of another person. Toddlers stop biting at the age when they realize that such behavior is unacceptable. * After 3 years, children bite when they feel helpless or frightened, for example, when they lose in a fight, they are afraid that someone will hurt them. Children over three years of age who bite frequently should be seen by a doctor. Perhaps the child has problems with self-control or self-expression. A baby who is teething often bites in response to not-so-pleasant sensations in the mouth or in order to reduce the load on their gums.

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