Why do children bite?
Children bite for different reasons, depending on their age.
- Between 5 and 7 months of age, children usually bite other people when they feel discomfort around their mouths or when they are in pain caused by teething. Most often they bite their caregivers. Sometimes a young baby bites his or her mother during breast-feeding. Children of this age learn not to bite as they see and hear the reaction of the person they have bitten.
- Between 8 and 14 months of age, children usually bite other people when they are excited. Most often they bite a caregiver or another child close to them. A firm "no" usually stops these children from biting again.
- Between 15 and 36 months of age, children may bite other people when they are frustrated or want power or control over another person. Usually they bite other children. Less frequently they bite their caregivers. Children of this age usually stop biting as they learn that biting is not acceptable behavior.
- After age 3, children usually bite when they feel powerless or scared, such as when they are losing a fight or think that they are going to be hurt by another person. Children older than 3 who frequently bite other people may need to be seen by a doctor. This type of biting may be a sign that a child has problems with expressing feelings or self-control.
Biting occurs in a variety of situations, most often when many children are together. In the United States, human bites are a common cause of injury at day care centers.1 Most biting can be prevented with proper supervision that includes helping children express their feelings appropriately.
A child of any age who frequently bites other children may need special arrangements for day care. Parents may be asked to transfer their child out of a center when biting becomes a continual problem. The child may need to attend a child care center with staff who are skilled in dealing with children who bite. Can biting be a sign of a more serious problem?
Biting in young children usually does not lead to behavior problems at a later age. But children who persistently bite and show other aggressive behaviors, especially if they are older than age 3, may have other health or emotional issues. These children should be seen by a doctor.