Children often display behaviors that adults may label as “good” or “bad,” and then try to encourage or discourage that action based on its label. As experienced care providers, we are frequently asked about one concerning behavior in particular: biting. Rest assured, for infants and toddlers, biting is an age appropriate means of expression and learning.
According to the American Psychological Association “…biting is a normal behavior among children under 3 years old…It’s a way young children express anger, frustration and a need for control and attention before they have the words to do so” (apa.org). “Every infant experiments with biting. Babies bite their teething toys, their mommy’s breast, their pacifier, or the fingers or shoulders of their parents. Usually, the parent’s immediate flinch or cry of surprise communicates to the child that biting hurts, and after a few experiments, the child has learned enough about biting to move on. The experiments cease. There’s nothing bad or wrong with these biting experiments: the baby is doing what he or she must do to learn” (handinhandparenting.org).
In group care settings, “it’s an uncomfortable reality of life with toddlers: some of them bite other children. And it happens quite often. Between a third and a half of all toddlers in day care are bitten by another child, studies indicate; in fact, epidemiological studies peg that number at closer to half of all children in day care” (apa.org). While biting is a developmentally appropriate and common action for young children, there are ways to discourage and prevent this behavior.
Discipline usually is not necessary, as most kids don’t realize biting hurts. Never hit or bite a child who has bitten, as this teaches the child that this behavior is OK” (kidshealth.org). When a child does bite, these are the recommendations for the care provider to follow: address the situation immediately, console and comfort the victim, redirect the biter, suggest and reaffirm language choices for children to use instead of biting – such as no, mine, stop, and help, identify the possible triggers to avoid them in the future, and be consistent in maintaining a no biting rule.

“Though not socially acceptable, biting is a normal behavior among children under 3 years old” (apa.org), and thankfully there are ways to curb this unwanted interaction. Through consistent reminders, gentle redirection, and by immediately addressing the situation, biting can be a brief learning experience in your child’s development. If you are concerned about your child’s biting behavior, or have any questions about age appropriate learning, please call Peace of Mind at 651-731-2608.