How to Handle Biting

January 1, 2017

Here at the Mount Sinai Parenting Center we receive many questions about hard to manage child behavior.  In this blog post, Bronwyn Charlton, PhD, Clinical Instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Co-Founder of SeedlingsGroup, details her response to a common parental complaint.


I have tried everything to get my daughter to stop biting, including time-outs and a firm but quick “we don’t bite.” Nothing seems to work. Sometimes, following a time-out, she will bite again. She does not have to be provoked and typically I am the recipient of her aggression.  Do you have any tips for curbing the biting when none of the typical methods seem to work?


Sometimes helping your child learn that biting is not acceptable requires a more complicated response than may work with other children. Despite best intentions, biting gets lots of attention.  The pain alone inspires an audible reaction, and later, the visible remains of the bite are a reminder to the child of how much pain they caused.

To stop a behavior from happening, parents and caregivers need to ensure that the behavior gets ZERO attention. It is also important to ensure the behavior you want to see gets enthusiastic praise and, sometimes, a reward. For a biter that does not respond to positive discipline or typical bubble charts, a good plan is to create a “happy mouth” or “safe mouth” chart. Explain to your child that having a “happy” or “safe” mouth means no biting or hurting.  You will then shape designated periods of time in which your child will be rewarded for maintaining a happy/safe mouth.

Start out with a short 30-minute time frame. You can even use a timer.  Alert your child to the start of “happy/safe mouth” time and praise her throughout for being bite-free.  When the period ends, if there has been no biting, your child should get a sticker on their chart and lots of enthusiastic praise.  If biting did occur, say only, “That’s too bad.   I won’t be able to give you a sticker for having a happy mouth, but you’ll have another opportunity next time.”  Give no additional attention to the biting behavior.  Soon, you will be stretching the periods of time longer and longer and before you know it, the biting days will be long gone.