How to React When Children Bite

· December 8, 2018
Often, children bite because they don’t know how to manage their negative emotions. Learn how to deal with this in this article.

It’s common that children bite during a phase that occurs between two to three years of age. This occurs when they start to have emotions they didn’t have previously (such as anger, frustration, or jealousy) and don’t know how to channel it into something possible.

Although it might not be a serious problem, it can still be very common. They don’t know how to correctly express how they feel, so they do so through biting.

Why do children bite?

Understanding what’s behind this behavior in the first place is key to getting your child to stop this aggressive behavior. Generally, it occurs when a child is under the supervision of a stranger or outside the view of their parents.

However, sometimes children bite their siblings or their parents. Biting is an expression of something and it’s important to find out what. Children bite because of a situation in the home, which might be any of the following:

  • The loss of a close relative or a parent
  • The arrival of a new baby, which triggers jealousy
  • Divorce
  • A move or a new environment that is unfamiliar
  • Witnessing other violence within the family
  • They feel frustrated, lonely, or helpless
  • Children need affection or more freedom
  • They’re upset or overstimulated
  • They bite in response to being bitten
  • Children can even bite to express love
  • Biting can also be an expression of anger or fear

What should you do when children bite?

children bite

Just as it’s common to have a child who bites at a young age, they will probably also stop doing it when they get older. Knowing that it’s a common problem doesn’t reassure the parents of a child exhibiting this behavior now, however, and much less the parents of the child who has been bitten.

If you find yourself in the situation where your see your child biting someone or a teacher is telling you this behavior has occurred, we suggest you follow some of the tips we’ll share below.

It’s best to help your child overcome this stage as quickly as possible.

Take care of the bitten child, while not ignoring the biter

If the child bit another child, calmly and gently check the child who has been bitten and don’t ignore the child who is guilty of this act. Attend first to the victim and ensure that they don’t need medical attention.

Ensure that the child who exhibited this behavior recognizes that the act of biting won’t get your attention.

You should involve the child who bit into the caring for the victim so they can see that their action caused pain and harm.

Don’t treat them with cruelty – this will only close them off to you and make them unwilling to explain why they behaved in that way.

Read more: What to do about Disobedient Children

Stay calm and don’t punish them

Although it’s easy to get carried away with anger when you see this aggressive behavior, you must remain calm. A violent response, extreme reprimands, or punishments will only feed the anger and frustration that triggered the biting in the first place.

With some gentle calm words, you must explain to the child that biting hurts and it’s a behavior they shouldn’t repeat again no matter how angry they may be.

Talk to your child about how to act when they’re angry

Teach your child that they should seek some help from the nearest adult whenever they feel angry. Biting is most common in day care centers and preschools, so your child should learn to express their feelings to the teacher first.

If another child took away a toy from them, for example, they must learn to tell the child that they don’t like what they did. Then they should notify the teacher so that they can resolve the situation.

It’s very important that you also talk to the teacher or supervisor. You need to know how they are handling any aggressive or angry situations among the children in their care.

Also read: Are Children Really The Reflection of Their Parents?

Use positive reinforcement

Reinforcing positive behavior is much more effective than focusing on aggressive behavior. After three years of age, children begin to enjoy the company of their peers. Whenever they are playing quietly with friends, be sure to praise their good behavior.

“Look how nicely you’re playing with your friend! You’re so good!”

At the same time, talk to them about biting. When they are eating, explain why we bite things like bread and fruit as well as why they shouldn’t bite their friends.

Never bite a child

Some people think that if they return the bite their child will understand that biting is painful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, a child will learn that it’s an acceptable way to release their anger.

The example you set for your child is stronger than anything you can teach them. Never bite your child, not even as a joke.

Watch and intervene

children bite
While children will learn to control themselves, you must be alert to the factors that trigger biting. This will enable you to see what could cause a situation and prevent it from happening in the first place.

The instant you recognize that your child is about to bite someone, you must be firm. Without losing your calm, remove them from the situation and explain why what they are doing is wrong.

“It’s wrong to bite, and I’m not going to let you bite your friend.”

In conclusion

Most importantly, remind your child that you love them.

The love you show your child will help them express the feelings that led to biting and a loss of control. You must be clear that you disapprove of this behavior but that you’ll never stop loving them.

NAEYC. (2015). Understanding and Responding to Children Who Bite. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/understanding-and-responding-children-who-bite