My nephew is just over a year and my family is struggling with his biting. He has often bitten during times when nothing obvious really prompted him to (i.e. wants something, is angry/tired/sad). It tends to happen when he's just cuddling or being held.

He's usually very happy at the time he chooses to bite also. He's bitten on the arm/fingers/back/stomach/during breastfeeding and it has been very hard, enough to cut the skin or cause a bruise.

We will usually set him down and tell him no really firmly. He's caused tears several times. He has a lot of teeth already (5 top/4 bottom) and is getting a couple more, but it just doesn't seem like this is because he's teething. Why is he doing this and how can we get him to stop?

Note: He is still breastfed and is being weaned because his mother has been bitten.

3 Answers 3


Attempting to reason with a child of this age is FUTILE. I'll be vilified by child-protection advocates for this answer, but here goes: bite back! Clearly, the child has little or no idea of the painful effect of his actions -- NOT HIS FAULT, he's simply not at a stage of development where these effects register to him as such. He may bite out of frustration, to combat boredom, for personal entertainment, or simply as a world-exploration experiment. After all, the huge reaction we give to his tiny action must be fascinating and empowering. He finds he, with so little apparent ability to modify his world, can make a huge change to it with one teensy stunt.

Turn each incident into a game, a game that to him you clearly enjoy and look forward to repeating. As soon as he bites, say "Ohhh, the BITING game, what fun! MY TURN!" You then proceed to return the favor, in the same manner as it was paid (bite the same spot on his body where he bit you, and in the same way). Obviously, you bite back with the most GENTLE pressure you feel will still register to him as a bite, i.e. JUST ENOUGH to cause a negative reaction on his part. This will require experimentation to assess his pain threshold: start gently, and ramp up the pressure until he reacts with aversion.

He will likely react with surprise, astonishment and shock. He may wail and burst into tears. You then say, "Oh, I hurt you! I'm so sorry. I apologise. That wasn't very nice of me to do that." Alternatively, if he laughs and seems to enjoy it, laugh with him, but be aware that you may not have bitten with enough pressure to register to him as pain. Adjust your subsequent bite pressure accordingly. Then, if he bites again, simply repeat the exercise in exactly the same way.

This is a great learning opportunity for both of you. He will find out at least one effect of his actions towards other people, and you will learn how he reacts to direct, relevant and appropriate feedback on his actions.

  • I want to give this a +1 because my child is only biting during play and thus doesn't really know his own strength, so showing him it can be uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of what he is doing (while minimizing the amount of pain) is sort of what play is intended for. However, for a child biting during breastfeeding CassieD's answer is preferred.
    – virtualxtc
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 17:13

I'm going to offer a counter to the "bite back" suggestion. I affirm, it is a developmental stage and rationalization is likely not possible at that age. When I was nursing and biten, a loud firm "no" and abruptly ended the nursing session. I never entertained "cute" biting and kept a serious face, and sometimes acted more hurt than I felt. The response was to envoke both empathy (my sadness) and consequence (no more nursing). I was able to nurse 4 children past the biting phase using that method, noting which child cared more about empathy and which about consiquence.

As for stopping a child mid bite, I push back in the middle of thier forehead. I showed my older children how to do it to prevent injury. It takes very little force and stops the biter often before biting happens. A toddler over the age of two will go in time out for the action, having to sit there from two mintues up to until they can tell me why they were put there and apologize (sometimes the bigger part of the punishment). This generally follows the super nanny time out method, though with a toddler I may resort to hold them at thier hips in time out for two minutes (no eye contact).

In my experience, biting back as a punishment has actually produced the opposite results. This is just my observation, but I've found that when one of my toddlers has been bitten by someone else, there is a ripple effect for weeks where that child will become a 'biter' fading off as time goes along. Likewise, some of the families I know who "bite back" have the biggest sustained issue with biting. While it may be good to have a first bite to the child to let them experience the pain, after that it's best to switch to a method you don't want emulated on yourself.


For breastfeeding you can use nipple protectors (or even take the top of a bottle (the baby feed kind of bottles) and cut a hole in it)

Many kids that age go though a stage of wanting to explore the world. And they do explore with their mouth. Biting seems to be a natural part of that experience. I do recommend bite toys (especially those you put in the fridge) to let him satisfy that need to put something in his mouth and chew on it.

Otherwise, just give it time (and for most people this is when breastfeeding tends to stop quickly)

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