Sometimes your child might bite other children or an adult. This is quite common.
Why children bite
Your child might bite because they:
- want to express a strong feeling and don't have the words to tell you how they feel, for example if they are angry
- want to tell you they need more personal space
- are teething and are in pain
- want to get attention
- want to see what will happen or what kind of a reaction they will get
What to do if a child bites
After a child bites, be aware of your own feelings. Count to 10 or take a few deep breaths before you respond. If an older child is hitting their newborn baby brother or sister it’s normal to feel protective and react quickly. Try to respond calmly and gently.
Follow these steps:
- Remove the child that has bitten from the situation. Firmly but calmly tell them that their behaviour is wrong. “No biting. Biting hurts. Look Jake is crying now.” Keep it short and simple. It is important to not give much attention to the behaviour.
- Spend a few moments soothing the child who has been bitten by showing concern and sympathy.
- If the child who bit tries to join in, remind them to stay away and tell them that their behaviour was unacceptable. Do not give them any attention - children love attention so by not giving it to them the unacceptable behaviour is not rewarded.
After the biting, don’t make the children play again together unless they want to. It can help to think about activities that don’t require sharing, like sand and water play. These may give the children a chance to relax.
Learning new skills takes time. The best thing you can do is respond consistently to biting a number of times until the child learns to express themselves in different ways.
How to prevent biting
As your child grows older they will learn that biting others is not acceptable and that it can hurt another child.
You can help prevent biting by:
- watching how your child behaves when they’re around other children
- praising them when they are getting on well with other children
- noticing situations in which your child usually bites
The following tips might be helpful:
- if you see your child is about to bite, hit or kick intervene to distract your child - show them an interesting book or toy
- if you think your child is in pain with teething, provide them with something they can chew on
- if you think your child bites, hits or kicks when they need personal space, keep an eye on the space around your child - you can ask: “Jake would you mind sitting over here so Anna has a bit of space?”
- suggest ways to share and take turns - one strategy is to use an egg timer so children can see how long they have to play with the toy before sharing
Your child's social, emotional and behavioural development