Help! My Child Is Biting!

help my child is biting

There is something repulsive about biting.

Perhaps the thought of being bitten threatens our position on the food chain.

Needless to say, parents get upset about children biting, whether their child is bitten or is the biter. It goes without saying that the child being bitten isn’t happy. But, the biter isn’t happy either.

Biting for two-year olds is a common response to frustration. I call it pre-verbal biting. A two-year-old has a larger listening or receptive vocabulary than spoken or expressive vocabulary. When situations don’t go well, all the energy that is trying to form words gets in a major traffic jam in the temporo-mandibular joint next to the ears. The tension builds and, in a blink of the eye, can be released on an unsuspecting arm.

Biting, hitting, kicking, pinching or spitting on others is characteristic of two and three-year-old children who can’t find the words to express themselves. In a preschool situation with this age children, biting can turn into a feeding frenzy.

One child bites and others follow depending on the way the aggressive behavior is handled. If the children perceive that biting or other behavior is effective in getting one’s way, getting attention from adults, or expressing frustration, almost overnight a preschool classroom or a family with several siblings can become a chomping ground.

With biting, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

At parent meetings I forewarned parents of how and why biting occurs, and urged them not to over-react if their child bit or was bitten. I explained our strategy of preventing biting, and how we would handle it. I also noted that even in the best supervised circumstances a biting incident can occur, and that how it is handled will make a difference between one incident or a frenzy of incidents.

Prevention. Every day in our classroom we gave multiple short one-minute lessons, which we call grace and courtesy lessons, on how to use your words to say excuse me, may I please, sorry, I’m mad, I’m frustrated, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, while stressing that we had to use our words to solve our problems.

Cure. When a biting incident occurred, we removed the biter from the classroom and sent the child home immediately with a sad, “Remember. We must use our words. Tomorrow you can come back to school.”

This sent a strong message to the entire classroom that biting was not acceptable. When we handled biting in this way, we usually only had one biting incident for the entire year in the school. There were some years we had no biting incidents because the four-and five-year-olds were so good at helping the younger children learn to use their words.

Who, what, when, where and why? If a biting incident occurs, take the time to consider when the biting occurred.  Who was involved in the incident? What circumstances led up to the incident and what happened afterward?

Sometimes the biting child may have been treated unkindly by another child, so look at each situation carefully. Biting may indicate some stress in the child’s life such as divorce, illness, new home, new sibling, new schoolmate, visitors, or disrupted eating or sleeping schedule.

Helping children daily with spoken language will help them express needs and emotions and avoid offensive conduct.

Parents can feel outraged if their child is bitten and embarrassed if their child is the perpetrator. Parents of the bitten child should know that the incident was dealt with effectively. The parents of the child who bit should be aware that their child is dealing with frustration or stress.

If you have clear expectations for behavior in your classroom or family, and have a clear understanding with other adults of how biting or other aggressive behavior will be handled, these incidents will be a short-lived occurrence.

4 Responses to “Help! My Child Is Biting!”

  1. gail moore

    I enjoyed reading your article on biting.

    Can you give your opinion on the increasing numbers of children on the spectrum who are coming into our environments. They often experience the frustrations of not being able to express themselves with their friends. Parents are often frustrated and don’t know what to do.
    Is sending the child home after a biting incident the best way?

    The child I had last year was recommended by our director to seek professional help. The parents took him and had him screened and because of his high intelligence he came out “normal” but did not address the issue at hand. The biting continued off and on til the end of school and I had no support from administration.

    As a teacher what else could I have done to prevent?

    I used social stories, food is for biting stories, Peace rose, many one on one interactions, shadowing to watch for rise of frustration, parent conferences, private praise for jobs well done, Over time it became less but still occurred at the end. As a guide I was stymied as to what I could do next to prevent hurt to others and to him. Any thoughts?

    • Gail,

      One of the situations I think we are seeing with many children is that they have been around only adults. Adults can anticipate needs and fulfill requests. Children in a preschool classroom are not so accommodating.

      I have a Kids Talk article here about that:
      Learning From Bumps and Bruises

      You ask if sending the child home after the biting incident is the best way.

      I don’t know if it is the best way. It worked for me by sending a clear message to the biting child and all the children in the classroom that biting was unacceptable behavior, and that using our words to problem solving was the way.

      Again, we were teaching grace and courtesy lessons on how to use your words to make needs known.

      In another Kids Talk article, Stopping Biting, I give a few more ideas:

      Also for children as young as 2.5 years I taught a problem solving tool, Five-Step Problem Solving. I explain that tool in the following Kids Talk article, and also in my Problem Solving Tools To Use With Children workshop.

      As teachers we have to realize that despite all of our efforts, some children will continue to bite. If we have worked with the parents and school administration to solve the behavior and it continues, we need to have a policy in place that states when enough is enough. It is not fair to the other children in the classroom to not have a safe learning environment.

      We can only learn when we feel safe, so it is imperative that we put “safety first” in the classroom.

      Gail, I hope these resources help. Of course, always feel free to ask!

  2. Laura Bengel

    What is your opinion for toddlers that bite (ages 15 months to 2.5 years of age)? Their classroom role models are children ages three and under, many of whom are non-verbal. Sending home a toddler for biting feels punitive to the parent of such a young child, rather than helpful to a phase of development. Thank you for clearly explaining the biting process in the mind of a young child!

    • Laura,


      I think for those preverbal children we have to offer a lot of grace and courtesy lessons to give them the language to navigate their relationships.

      In my experience, usually we only had to send a child home once.

      Also, observe the time and circumstances that the biting occurs. That can help avoid situations that provoke biting.


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