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November 8, 2021

Why Children Bite

Biting is a common behavior in toddlers and young children. While the behavior itself is quite common, it’s also a serious concern for parents and educators. Biting can seriously injure someone, and often it’s frustrating for everyone involved. So how can parents and educators work to curb biting?

Why do children bite?

Biting can begin in several ways for young children. Often it starts during young toddlerhood or older infancy when a child is teething. Biting down can provide counter pressure to sore gums, which makes it feel great for young teethers whose gums are in pain. Often biting begins completely innocently, with a child who is simply biting everything in sight to give themselves some relief.

Biting can also begin as a way to express frustration or anger. Young children still have very limited verbal communication skills, so their ability to express strong emotions like anger and sadness are very limited. They’re also unlikely to be fully aware of the fact that biting can hurt others, and don’t consider that fact before going in for a bite. It can simply be an impulsive and emotion-fueled response to a situation without a real intention of causing harm.

How can biting be prevented?

Children who are teething should be given plenty of options for better ways to get relief from sore or swollen gums. Providing them with designated teething toys made of soft material, like silicone, is a great way to provide them a good biting surface that doesn’t hurt anyone. Putting these toys in the fridge or freezer can add some additional coolness to soothe hot swollen gums.

For children who bite out of anger or frustration, the key is providing them with both the skills to express their anger and the compassion for other people’s pain. Talk together about things the child can do to show they are angry or get help from an adult. Practice a few key phrases, like “I’m mad” or “please stop that” to give them some power in regulating their own emotions. Explain how they would be unhappy if a friend bit them, and how their friends would likewise be unhappy to be bitten.

What should you do when a child has bitten another child?

In the immediate aftermath of a bite, it’s important to stay calm. Both the biter and the bitten are likely to be feeling a lot of intense emotions. Adding your own anger and frustration will only make the situation more distressing.

Start by addressing the child who was hurt. Address any medical concern they have, such as needing a bandage or an ice pack, and comfort them from their pain. This doesn’t just calm the child who was bitten, but also models compassion for the biter. This can help them realize that they have hurt someone and see the concern coming from an adult for their wellbeing.

Before chastising the biter, it’s important to help them calm down as well. They aren’t going to be able to adequately listen to what you have to say until they are calm enough to hear it. Work together to regulate their emotions, and then talk through what happened. Even for a child who isn’t very verbal yet, hearing an adult talk through the situation can be helpful. Be patient and consistent, tell the child that biting hurts and is not allowed. Provide some cooling-off time and then encourage the biter to apologize.

Sometimes it can take many discussions and lots of time for a child to grow out of biting. This is completely normal, and it’s not a reflection on their character or personality. It’s simply a common developmental phase that many children go through. With grace, patience, and loving discipline from both teachers and parents, this phase will eventually pass.

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Christina Vaan

Christina is a blog writer and early childhood education content specialist at Kindertales.

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