Why Do Children Bite?

Kids bite for a number of reasons — and most of them aren’t intentionally malicious. As a Preschool Director, I have found over the years that children typically bite for the 5 main reasons listed below.

  1. They’re in pain.
    • When babies bite, typically it’s because they’re teething. They’re just doing it to relieve the pain of their swollen, tender gums.
  2. They’re exploring their world.
    • Very young children use their mouths to explore, just as they use their hands. Just about everything infants or toddlers pick up eventually winds up in their mouths. Kids this age aren’t yet able to prevent themselves from biting the object of their interest.
  3. They’re looking for a reaction.
    • Part of exploration is curiosity. Toddlers experiment to see what kind of reaction their actions will provoke. They’ll bite down on a friend or sibling to hear the surprised reaction, not realizing how painful the experience is for that person.
  4.  They’re craving attention.
    • In older kids, biting is just one of several bad behaviors used to get attention. When a child feels ignored, discipline is at least one way of getting noticed — even if the attention is negative rather than positive.
  5.  They’re frustrated.
    • Biting, like hitting, is a way for some children to assert themselves when they’re still too young to express feelings effectively through words. Biting, to a child, is a way to get back a favorite toy, tell you that he or she is unhappy, or let another child know that he or she wants to be left alone.

When children are teething, we need to recognize that as caregivers and parents its our job to find solutions to give them to stop the pain. Some suggestions are to offer teether’s, a blanket to bite on, a cool wet wash cloth, topical teething gels and/or Tylenol to help ease the symptoms.

When children bite through exploration its because they are still in the oral phase of development and they are still fine tuning this area.  One suggestion is teaching them what objects they are allowed to bite; like a teether or a blanket vs. what they are not allowed to bite; such as people, pets, or other objects that are potential safety risks.

When children bite, there is a strong reaction from the caretaker, parent, or friend.  That reaction is an attention getting or receiving reaction that children discover to be a stimulating interaction.  Some suggestions to curb children from biting for a reaction is to not react to them directly.  Instead, the attention should be given to the person or object that has been bitten For example, if your toddler/child bites you, instead of reacting with surprise you want to turn to yourself and give yourself the attention to where you have been bitten. Focus your direct attention to yourself and not to the child, “Ouch that hurt my arm”.  Just as when a child bites another child, you want to give the attention to the child that has been bitten.  For example “Oh poor Tommy…Tommy has been hurt by Jason!”

In an instant when an older child bites, they may be craving attention.  They might be feeling ignored or frustrated, and the above example is a way of giving the attention to the one bitten and not the biter.

It is important to discover what may be frustrating the child.  Is there a need that is not being met?  Are they hungry?  Are they tired?  Are they in pain?  Or, are they simply just discovering the world around them?

If you are unable to get your child to stop biting, the behavior could begin to have an impact on school and relationships. You or another adult might have to closely supervise interactions between your child and others. When biting becomes a habit or continues past age 4 or 5, it might stem from a more serious emotional problem. Talk to your child’s health care provider, or enlist the help of a child psychologist or therapist.

Scottsdale, BeckyBecky Bergman

Program Director-Leawood