Most children go through a phase of biting mum, dad or another child.

Most children go through a phase where they will bite another child or their Mum and Dad. They do not understand that they will hurt someone if they bite. Luckily this is usually just a phase.

As your child develops they will learn that biting hurts people. They will also learn the words and coping skills to express and manage their strong feelings.

Your child might bite because they are:

  • exploring things and people – (babies and toddlers use their mouths to explore);

  • teething;

  • frustrated, excited or angry and don’t have the words to express themselves;

  • wanting your attention;

  • over tired;

  • responding to another child’s aggressive behaviour;

  • copying others;

  • worried or anxious about a change in their life like a new baby or house move; or

  • interested in the reaction they get and don’t understand it causes pain.

Tips for dealing with your child’s biting

When your child bites you:

  • Stay calm. Don’t smack or bite your toddler back. This will hurt your child and give them the wrong message that this behaviour is OK.

  • Calmly say something like ‘No biting. I don’t like that - it hurt me.”

  • Put them slightly away from you.

  • After a few minutes pick your child up again.

  • Praise your child when you see them being kind to you, another child or adult. They will learn this is the behaviour you want to see.

When they bite another child:

  • Stay calm. Don’t smack or bite your toddler back.  This will hurt your child and give them the wrong message that this behaviour is OK.

  • Say something like ‘No biting, it hurts”.  Comment on how the other child is feeling: “Look, Ieuan is crying. He is crying because you bit him”.

  • Tell them what you want to see “We use gentle hands.”

  • Give more attention to the child who was bitten. Often when a child bites, adults give them a lot of attention. This is usually negative attention, but it may actually cause the biting or hitting to continue, rather than stop.  

  • Move your child away from the game they were playing for a few minutes.

  • Praise your child when you see them being kind to another child.  They will learn this is the behaviour you want to see.

Preventing biting

  • Have lots of safe objects for biting, for example teething rings or crunchy snacks (like plain crackers, carrot sticks or apple pieces).

  • Try to anticipate trouble and move your child before they bite. 

  • Give your child some simple choices, for example “red top or blue top?”, “apple or banana?”  If you give your child some choices they will feel a sense of control. This may help reduce biting.

  • Help your child express their feelings. “You feel cross because you want to go on the bike.  It’s Cary’s turn now, then you can have a go.  Do you want to play with the train or the dolls, while you are waiting?”

  • Make time for active play every day. Go to the park, play in the garden or put some music on and dance. This will reduce your child’s anger and frustration.

  • Try to avoid stressful activities or places where there will be lots of other children on days when your child is very tired.

It may help to talk things over. Family Lives (External link) offers a confidential and free (from landlines and most mobiles) helpline (previously known as Parentline). You can call on 0808 800 2222 for information, advice, guidance and support on any aspect of parenting and family life. The (English language) helpline is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.

This phase will pass over time. It doesn’t mean your child is aggressive.