Parent: Once bitten...


Children aged between 18 months and three years can sometimes go through a phase of biting others. A careful approach is needed to address this, taking into account underlying, developmental factors.

It’s difficult to know what’s worse – hearing that your child has been bitten or that it’s yours that is biting others. Unfortunately it’s highly likely that you’ll nd yourself in one of these situations – if not both – because biting is common in early childhood. Knowing more about why this is and how to deal with it can help.

Why do children bite?
While a first bite may therefore be ‘accidental’ there are other reasons why some children may continue to bite:

Frustration – from not having the language or social skills to be able to communicate what they want or how they are feeling. Biting often decreases when a child starts to talk.

Sensation – sometimes they simply enjoy the feeling of biting, need oral stimulation or do it out of impulse. It can be down to lack of self-control rather than deliberately doing something wrong.

Teething – may lead a child to bite as they feel discomfort in their gums.

Tiredness – or being unwell can lead to unwanted behaviours in young children as they struggle to respond to others and regulate their behaviour.

It is more unusual for children over the age of three-years- old to bite. If your child is older, then try to think of an underlying reason, such as a recent emotional upheaval or perhaps problems with language or social communication – may their hearing have been affected by a cold or glue ear? It could be biting in order to gain attention.

How should I respond to biting incidents?
First, remember that this is a very normal occurrence and you are not raising a violent child. It is likely to be a short- lived phase but there are various things that you can do to reduce or stop incidents:

  • If your child bites you or another person then swiftly move your child away, say no rmly and keep a serious face. This helps your child to understand that it is not acceptable behaviour.
  • Tell your child that biting hurts and they should not do it. You could share books with them that reinforce this concept.
  • If your child starts biting more frequently then try to look for a link – is it in response to a transition (such as arriving at nursery or coming indoors), perhaps it’s on days when they have missed their nap or before mealtimes when they are hungry. Try to adapt your routines to support your child.
  • Give a teething child, or one who craves oral stimulation, cooled teething toys to chew on or healthy crunchy snacks.If they are biting their siblings then assess what is happening – perhaps you need to work on sharing, or stop an older sibling from teasing them.
  • Rather than punish your child, try to supervise them more, especially at times when they are liable to bite, and use distraction.

Your child’s key person should tell you if your child has bitten another at nursery. Ask them about what is happening and how they respond to incidents and convey what is happening at home so staff can be vigilant. They are likely to have dealt with many biting phases, so ask for advice. If you continue to be worried about your child’s biting then speak to a health visitor.

What shouldn’t I do?
Never bite your child in order for them to experience how it hurts. Not only are you copying and therefore condoning their behaviour, but it is child abuse. Also, giving a harsh punishment or shaming them can heighten your child’s emotions and may increase biting or anti-social incidents. As a parent, you need to be a role model and show calm responses rather than aggressive ones.

  • Books to share
    Little Dinos Don’t Bite by Michael S Dahl and Adam Record Little Dino has lots of sharp teeth and starts using them to bite objects and other dinosaurs. He must learn to use them properly.
  • No Biting! By Karen Katz. In this humorous book it seems that the frustrated child will use his teeth to release frustration but lift the ap to see other ways that he deals with his feelings.
  • Doodle Bites by Polly Dunbar Doodle is feeling bitey so he bites Tumpty’s big bottom! Then Tumpty stamps on Doodle’s tail and now both of them are upset

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