I'm a grandad wondering. I'm watching my kids and their contemporaries deal with various parenting issues that my wife and I encountered ourselves. As they're living some way away I don't often get involved day-to-day, just see some discussions on social media.

Recently the question of dealing with biting came up. Various opinions were expressed, pretty much in line with questions and answers I've seen on this site. The contrasting opinions being "teach them it hurts, bite them!" and "how can you expect a child to learn not to bite by biting them?!"

I saw one statement to the effect: extensive research has proven that biting may stop the initial biting behaviour but in the longer term other violent or aggressive behaviours will manifest.

Now as I have a somewhat academic mindset that piqued my interest. I'm somewhat sceptical that such research results exist - it sounds quite a difficult thing to study - but if we have facts I surely want to base my actions on them.

So I began googling to see whether I could find that research, or indeed any other solid basis for choosing a disciplining strategy relating to biting. Then I realised that most serious academic work is hiding behind paywalls. Hence the question:

Do we have empirical data about effectiveness of strategies for dealing with biting? Do we have longitudinal studies that might reveal whether apparently effective approaches might have longer term less desirable effects?

Please note: I'm not here asking for opinions about what we should do, or accounts of what worked for you, or even the policies of schools or other organisations. I'm interested in the empirical basis for making such decisions.

  • 1
    I am sorry you are not getting answers to your question. I would guess that none of us have empirical data, -- just personal experience with this sort of problem. Good luck!
    – WRX
    Dec 18, 2016 at 17:01
  • @Willow Rex - thanks. I find the lack of response quite interesting in itself.
    – djna
    Dec 18, 2016 at 18:19
  • I have twins who constantly are biting each other and I don't know what to do about it
    – user26023
    Jan 6, 2017 at 2:10
  • I once witnessed my 1-year old biting a visiting baby. I gave my 1-year old the task of bottle-feeding the baby. This made everybody happy. Jan 9, 2017 at 9:31

2 Answers 2


The literature strongly suggests that caregivers and parents not bite the child back as a punishment or to show the child how it feels to be bitten. Biting back communicates to the child that violence is acceptable (Claffey, Kucharski, & Gratz, 1994; Garcia, 1999; NAEYC, 1996). Because theorists think that biting may be related to the child's developmental stage, punishment in general is not advised either at home or in a child care center (Greenman & Stonehouse, 1994). Instead, experts recommend focusing attention on the victim, shielding the victim from the biter, initiating first aid measures as necessary, and consoling the victim (Claffey, Kucharski, & Gratz, 1994; Greenman, 1995).

Garcia (1999) and Greenman and Stonehouse (1995) suggest that biters who have reached age 2 or older may benefit from assisting in the first aid process. The biter can assist the victim by demonstrating "gentle touching," having the biter rub the victim's arm, and generally assisting with taking care of the victim to teach nurturing behavior (without letting these activities become a game). Other sources recommend that biters should be removed from the situation without dramatic movements, attention, or an emotional response that could provide negative reinforcement to the biter. Parents and caregivers can tell the biter that "biting is not OK," "I can't let you hurt your friends," etc. Toddlers in particular may not understand time-out, but caregivers need to make sure that the biter is not near other children until he or she has calmed down and can be redirected to other play (Garcia, 1999; Greenman, 1995; NAEYC, 1996).


Re: Academic articles behind a paywall

'Sci-hub' is an online search engine which bypasses paywalls for academic/scholarly articles. It advocates free access to knowledge for all. Works for me. Read more here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Hub

  • 1
    Thank you very much for taking the time to give a detailed response. I'll need to work at getting into Sci-Hub. The thing I'm trying to unpick is the basis for the experts recommendations.
    – djna
    Jan 9, 2017 at 13:38
  • In particular, I'd like to get to that paper by Claffey et al, seems to be cited by many people.
    – djna
    Jan 9, 2017 at 13:45
  • 1
    No problem, I'm always interested by these sorts of things myself. Here's your paper: twin.sci-hub.cc/654de4ffb1997329a2b68347529bb192/… Let me know if it works.
    – Littletee
    Jan 9, 2017 at 15:54
  • The Caffrey article gives some very thought-provoking perspectives, I feel as though there is much wisdom there. However, to my disappointment, there doesn't seem to be much empirical evidence offered for the key issue of how to address biting. We get "Through positive guidance children develop self-control and a sense of responsibility. These qualities enable them to grow into happy, independent people. Positive guidance shows a child acceptable behavior rather than punishing, controlling and disciplining a child." but I don't see this explicitly backed-up by empirical data.
    – djna
    Jan 9, 2017 at 23:39

Your interesting question sent me looking for empirical basis for the advice not to bite the child who has bitten someone. I've found it challenging to trace this back to empirical work.

A featured article published in 2011 by the American Psychological Association, Biting questions, stated:

One intervention to absolutely avoid is biting children back, a technique some adults did in the past, child psychology experts agree. Some thought that you could discourage biting by showing kids just how much it hurts. “But, really, what biting back does is model the very behavior you’re trying to extinguish,” says [John] Marr, [PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Arkansas]. “Kids this age are sponges for various types of social learning, and they don’t yet have the problem-solving and social skills to avoid biting. It’s up to adults to show them the right ones.” [...]

Clinical psychologists can find themselves on the receiving end of these concerns, and look to their colleagues for answers. There’s scant research on toddler biting because it’s not easy to study in a lab, but child psychologists have found that some techniques work well with biting. The short version? Turn down the anger, shame and embarrassment, and tune into toddlers on their own developmental level [emphasis added].

The fundamental principles underlying the advice appear to be:

  1. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work well. It could actually reinforce the undesired behavior; at the very least, it's confusing.

  2. Two-year-olds are limited in their understanding, self-expression, and self-control.

An additional factor may have been a 1980 article by Schmitz and ten Bensel, The Biting Child Syndrome, about a supposed correlation between a child biting others and the child being him or herself the victim of child abuse. It appears to have had a certain influence on other researchers' thinking. (Note, the Schmitz and ten Bensel article was based simply on two case studies, which makes it surprising that their article had so much impact. Here's a typical citation of their work:

Still another rationale for biting behavior is provided by Schmitz and ten Bensel (1980) who postulate that there is a relationship between biting behavior in preschool children and their being victims of child abuse. Aggressive biting, according to Schmitz and ten Bensel, may mean that a child has been a victim of aggressive acts or an observer in an aggressive environment. Caution should be used, however, when qualifying biters as victims of abuse. Biting alone may not be a sign of abuse but should be considered along with other symptoms and behaviors consistent with an abused child.

Developmentally, one can theorize that biting has two origins. It is widely viewed as a part of "normal" development. However, when high frequency or intensity of biting behavior is present, it may be viewed as "dysfunctional." In these instances, biting behavior may indicate sensory integration difficulties or possible child abuse. Schmitz and ten Bensel (1980) advocate for better observation and documentation of biting behavior so that more clear distinctions between "dysfunctional" and "normal" biting can be made. Certainly, the literature on biting behavior supports their request for better documentation of the incidence of biting, including the context of when and where the incident occurs, precipitating and resulting factors, and behavioral consequences. (de Atiles, Stegelin, Long,"Biting Behaviors Among Preschoolers: A Review of the Literature and Survey of Practitioners." Early Childhood Education Journal. 1997.)

Bottom line: I don't think there have been any empirical studies about the specific intervention you described.

Edit: I forgot to say, I did find one recent article which did have some actual data, but it wasn't from a controlled experiment, and it wasn't testing the intervention you described.

The authors view biting behavior as a toddler's developmental need for oral sensory stimulation. In their tests, the incidence of biting were decreased by offering appropriate alternatives for chewing stimulation.

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