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Biting


Topic Overview

Is it normal for a child to bite?

Most children younger than age 3 bite someone else at least once. Most children stop biting on their own. Biting that happens past age 3 or that occurs frequently at any age may need treatment. Biting isn't always intentional, and a bite from a child rarely causes serious injury to another person or poses any health risks.

Why do children bite?

Children bite other people for different reasons, depending on their age.

  • From 5 to 7 months of age, children may bite when they feel discomfort around their mouths, such as when they are teething. Most often they bite their caregivers. Sometimes a young baby bites his or her mother during breast-feeding.
  • From 8 to 14 months of age, children may bite when they are excited. Most often they bite a caregiver or another child close to them.
  • From 15 to 36 months of age, children may bite when they are frustrated or want power or control over another person. Usually they bite other children. Less often, they bite their caregivers.
  • After age 3, children may bite when they feel powerless or scared, such as when they are losing a fight or think that someone is going to hurt them. Biting at this age may be a sign that a child has problems with expressing feelings or self-control.

When is a child most likely to bite another child?

Biting occurs in a variety of situations, most often when many children are together, such as at day care. Most biting can be prevented when adults help children find better ways to express their feelings.

A child of any age who frequently bites other children may need special arrangements for day care. If biting becomes an ongoing problem, parents may be asked to take their child out of a day care center.

Can biting be a sign of a more serious problem?

Biting in young children usually doesn't lead to behavior problems at a later age. But children who bite others often and act aggressively in other ways, especially if they are older than age 3, may have health problems or emotional issues. These children should be seen by a doctor.

What can you do about your child's biting?

Not all biting can be prevented. What you can do to reduce biting depends on how old your child is and why he or she bites. For example:

  • For teething babies, give them soft toys, teething rings, or a frozen washcloth to chew on.
  • For children ages 8 to 14 months, tell them that biting hurts other people. (Children this age are often not aware that bites hurt.) If your child bites you or someone else, react with a firm voice and say something like, "No! We do not bite."
  • For children ages 15 to 36 months, help them find other ways to express their feelings. For example, say something like, "Use your words to tell Susan that you're angry at her for taking your truck."

Learn to recognize the signs that your child is about to bite. You may be able to stop the biting before it happens if you can distract or redirect your child. Don't try to reason with young children or have long talks about biting. Use simple and direct language.

Positive reinforcement also helps. Praise your child when he or she shows behaviors that you want to encourage, such as sharing, being kind, or being patient. A reward can be as simple as giving your child a hug or a pat on the back and telling the child how well he or she is doing.

Be sure to model the behavior you would like to see in your child. Avoid angry outbursts, and set a good example by showing your child how to deal calmly with everyday frustrations. When a child bites:

  • Don't bite the child back to show how it feels to be bitten.
  • Don't wash out the child's mouth with soap.
  • Don't pinch, slap, or use other physical punishment.
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