Childhood Biting

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Should parents or caregivers discipline a toddler who bites?

To extinguish an unwanted behavior, the toddler who bites should experience an immediate and proportional response by their parent or caregiver. Time-out serves such a role. Following a time-out, giving the child appropriate verbal expressions or other techniques to deal with their frustrations is important. Parental biting of the child does not teach the child that biting hurts but rather reinforces the biting behavior since it is often done in parental frustration/anger when other techniques have failed.

Can biting be prevented?

Nursing newborns who bite often respond well to an evaluation by a lactation specialist. Pre-toddlers' nips are generally a reflection of excitement and are generally considered part of normal childhood development. They occur so quickly that they are difficult to prevent. The biting toddler may require repeated time-outs to realize that biting is not an effective approach to his goal (such as getting Tommy's toy) but rather provides a negative experience (social separation). Children over 3 years old who repeatedly bite others or themselves warrant a consultation with their pediatrician since this behavior may reflect serious emotional or developmental issues.

Medically reviewed by Douglas Barton, MD; Board Certified Pediatrics

REFERENCES:

"Biting - Topic Overview." WebMD.com. Apr. 17, 2008. <http://children.webmd.com/tc/biting-topic-overview>.

United States. Oklahoma State Department of Health. "Biting in the Toddler Years." 2000. <http://www.ok.gov/health/documents/BITING%20IN%20THE%20TODDLER%20YEARS%20rev.pdf>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015

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