What to Do When a Child Bites

What to Do When a Child Bites

How to stop this behavior permanently

When your child bites someone else, it is easy to feel like the worst parent in the world. Common in the early preschool years, biting is very rarely intentional or premeditated, nor is it unusual—most children will bite someone, whether it be a parent, caregiver, friend or sibling at least once. Small comfort, especially when your child is doing the chomping, but it is a behavior that can be corrected. Here’s how.

Why Children Bite

For the majority of children, biting, or any aggressive behavior for that matter, occurs because they are simply overwhelmed by the situation as it is unfolding in front of them.

Biting is the last, most aggressive option that happens when a child feels overwhelmed and it comes because the child doesn’t know what else to do.

They could be angry, they may not know what words to say to ask for help or they could be fearful.   Other reasons for a child biting include:

  • Stress in a child’s life, including a new baby, a death in the family, a new house or parents divorcing or separating
  • A way of showing love and emotion to a caregiver—strange, but sometimes young children have difficulty dealing with the intensive love they feel for someone they care for
  • A speech delay that isn’t allowing the child to adequately ask for what they need, causing them to become frustrated
  • The child is simply overstimulated and doesn’t know how to behave
  • Searching for attention—remember, any attention, even negative, is attention
  • Someone bit them first or they feel threatened in some way
  • Some children learn that biting is a way to take control of a situation and be in charge

Certainly, any of these reasons doesn’t make biting acceptable, but it may help you to understand why your child is acting this way. And that’s a key to stopping a child from biting—stopping the aggressive behavior by finding the root of the problem so you can help your little one curb it.

What To Do When a Child Bites

If you are on the scene when your child bites, your reaction needs to be quick and levelheaded.

Try to stay calm. Make sure the child or person that has been bitten is OK. Care for them first, offering first-aid, a band-aid, or whatever the person needs.

If your child is the biter, in the heat of the moment you might be tempted to bite your child back. Don’t. That will make the situation much worse, because not only are you now modeling the very aggressive behavior you don’t want your child to do, but you are also acting in anger and the lesson here is to teach your child that violence shouldn’t beget violence. Instead, try these tactics.

Ask your child what happened. Once the dust has settled, if you didn’t see the events leading up to the biting, ask your child to walk you through it. What was going through her head when she bit the other child. Does she remember what she was thinking? What should she have done differently?

Talk to your child about what he should do when he’s upset. As a preschooler matures, they start to develop a whole host of emotions that they may not quite know what to do with. This is especially true for anger. Explain that when he is starting to feel mad or angry or frustrated that’s the time he needs to ask a grown-up for help. Some kids (especially older preschoolers) are reluctant to go to a grown up when they are being teased or having trouble with another child because they don’t want to be labeled a tattletale. Keeping that in mind, the next time your child does come to you complaining about something someone has done to them, be sure to pay attention and take his concerns seriously. It could curb a biting incident in the future. For younger preschoolers, a book like Teeth Are Not For Biting may help you to explain the situation clearly, plus it is something you can go back to as needed in the future.

Figure out the triggers. If your child is a habitual biter, think about what it is that sets him off. It most likely is not a random occurrence. If you can figure out what it is that causes your child to bite, you can figure out how best to stop her from biting in the first place. Then, when you are at playgroup or on a playdate, keep a close watch on your child. If you think he is going to bite, intervene immediately and redirect him to a different activity.

Say no and leave. Seems simple but you need to spell it out. Tell your child that biting is wrong, end of story. Don’t yell or scream. Stay as calm as you can and firmly say, «No. We don’t bite. You hurt Sally. Now we have to leave,» and remove your child from the situation.

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Get help. If the biting is regular and your methods aren’t working, it might be time to ask for help. Consult your pediatrician or your child’s teacher for advice.


Treat Bug Bites and Stings in Kids

Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.

Insect bites and stings are very common in children, especially during the spring and summer months. Among the arthropods that often bite and sting are spiders, ticks, mites, mosquitoes, flies, fleas, ants, bees, and wasps. While most insect bites only result in mild local reactions, they can cause more serious conditions, such as anaphylactic reactions and Lyme disease.  

Knowing how to prevent and treat common insect bites and stings, and knowing when not to overreact, can help keep your kids safe and healthy.

Symptoms of Bug Bites and Stings in Children

The symptoms that can be caused by insect bites depend on the type of insect and how sensitive you are to it. Symptoms can vary from mild swelling, pain, itchiness and redness to large blisters or life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.  

Localized vs. Systemic Bug Bite Reactions

Reactions that stay localized to the site of the bite or sting are usually not serious. More serious signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, a type of life-threatening reaction, can include trouble swallowing, throat and chest tightness, low blood pressure (hypotension), diaphoresis (sweating), dizziness, weakness, itching, hives, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms usually develop fairly quickly and usually within 30 minutes of being stung. You should seek immediate medical attention or activate your local emergency services if your child has these symptoms following an insect bite or sting.  

Common Bug Bites and Stings

  • Mosquito bites commonly cause itchy red bumps, which can vary in size from being very small to 1/2 inch. They usually also have a central raised area.
  • Fire ants are notorious for causing severe local reactions, including pustules or pimples and red, swollen, and extremely itchy areas, which may turn into blisters. They often bite multiple times, most commonly on the feet and legs. A large number of bites, more than 10-20, in a young infant can lead to serious reactions and may require medical attention.
  • Bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets usually cause painful red bumps. Honey bees have a barbed stinger and usually leave it behind at the site of the sting. The stinger will usually appear as a black dot inside the bite if it has been left behind. More serious local reactions can cause swelling of an entire limb.
  • Unlike other bites, tick bites are painless and usually don’t itch.
  • Bedbugs also usually cause painless bites, which then become itchy. Since bedbugs usually only come out to feed at night, and they feed infrequently (often just weekly), they can be hard to detect.
  • Chiggers or harvest mites also commonly bite children, especially in the southern United States, where they are found in grasses and bushes. Chigger bites usually occur on the legs and along the belt line and can appear as small red bumps and are extremely itchy. Chigger bites are often confused with chickenpox infections.
  • Flea bites also commonly affect children, causing multiple, grouped red bumps with a central area of crusting.
  • Spider bites cause a lot of fear in parents, but rarely cause serious reactions in children. Only two spiders in the United States, the black widow spider, and the brown recluse spider usually cause poisoning. These spiders can be readily identified by their characteristic markings, including the red or orange hourglass shape on the abdomen of the black widow spider and the violin-shaped markings on the back of the brown recluse. These bites are usually painless or cause mild irritation. More serious reactions usually occur quickly and within 3-12 hours and can include muscle pain, diaphoresis (sweating), nausea, vomiting, headache, and high blood pressure.  

Papular Urticaria

Papular urticaria is a delayed hypersensitivity type reaction to many bites and stings. Children, usually between the ages of 2 and seven years, with this condition, will commonly develop multiple small, red itchy bumps in clusters on the upper arms, shoulders and other exposed areas. New crops of bumps commonly appear and each last about 2-10 days.  

How to Prevent Bug Bites and Stings

To help prevent your child from getting bitten or stung by insects, you can:

  • Make sure to keep as much of her skin covered with clothing as possible, including a long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks, and a hat.
  • Wear light-colored clothing, so as not to attract bugs.
  • Avoid using any scented soaps or other products on your baby, since the fragrances can also attract insects.
  • Use an insect repellent regularly. Commonly used insect repellents that can usually be safely used in children include those with less than 10% DEET, or others with citronella or soybean oil.
  • Apply insect repellents to clothing instead of to skin so that it won’t be absorbed.
  • Wash off insect repellents as soon as possible.
  • Follow the instructions, including age restrictions on any insect repellent you are considering using.
  • Avoid areas where insects nest.
  • Do daily tick checks of your child’s body when he has a possible exposure, especially when camping or hiking, so as to prevent tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease.
  • Remember that insect repellents do not protect against most stinging insects, including wasps, bees and fire ants.
  • Use window and door screens to prevent insects from getting inside your house.


Most children with insect bites or stings only need symptomatic treatment for the symptoms of pain and itching.


Some children who are allergic to the venom in the insect sting can develop more serious anaphylactic reactions.   Since this type of reaction is life-threatening, treatment should be started as soon as possible and you should activate your local emergency medical services. An injection of epinephrine is the main treatment for anaphylactic reactions. Children with a history of anaphylactic reactions should have an auto-injector of epinephrine available for immediate administration, but you should still call 911.

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Since children do not always outgrow these types of reactions, an evaluation by a Pediatric Allergist can be helpful to confirm the allergy (skin and/or RAST testing) and consider venom immunotherapy (allergy shots). These shots can protect your child from having future reactions to an insect bite or sting. Children usually begin with weekly shots of a gradually increasing strength of insect venom. This is followed by monthly maintenance shots so that the protection lasts.

Children with anaphylactic reactions should be given an emergency kit with an epinephrine autoinjector and they should wear an identification tag, such as a MedicAlert bracelet.

Bee Stings

Unlike other insects that sting, the honey bee leaves its stinger behind. Proper removal of this stinger following a honey bee sting can help prevent worsening symptoms.   What you should not do includes pulling the stinger out with tweezers or pinching it out with your fingers, since this can inject more venom and cause a worsening reaction. Instead, use a credit card or dull blade to scrape it out.

Symptomatic Treatment

Most insect bites and stings only cause local reactions, including redness, swelling, pain, and itching.   After you thoroughly wash the area with soap and water, other symptomatic treatments that may help your child feel better to include applying:

  • An ice pack or cool compress
  • A meat tenderizer solution, which can be made by mixing one part meat tenderizer and 4 parts of water. This is especially helpful for painful stings from bee, wasp or ant. For best effect, soak a cotton ball in the meat tenderizer solution and use it to rub the area of the bite for 15-20 minutes.
  • A baking soda paste
  • A topical steroid or other topical anti-itch creams, such as Calamine lotion, to the area

Other medications, including an oral antihistamine for itching, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and/or pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may also help. More extensive local reactions may sometimes require a short course of an oral steroid. Antibiotics may be needed if the bite becomes infected.

Is It Infected?

Insect bites and stings are commonly misdiagnosed as an infection. Or if the initial bite or sting is identified, the resulting redness and swelling are confused as a secondary cellulitis. While both conditions can cause similar symptoms, the local reaction to a bite or sting usually begins quickly and generally within 6 to 24 hours of the bite. A secondary infection usually occurs after the first 24 hours and can cause spreading redness, especially red streaks, and fever.


Hey! A Flea Bit Me!

What’s a Flea?

A flea is a small (no bigger than the head of a pin) brown bug with a hard shell. Fleas have tiny claws at the ends of their legs to help them attach to people or other warm-blooded animals and drink their blood.

If you have a dog or cat, chances are pretty good that you’ve seen a flea. Fleas are often found on the coats of these animals. Once the animal comes inside, the fleas can then jump onto people or carpeting.

What a Bite Looks and Feels Like

If a person gets bitten by a flea, the bite will feel itchy. Flea bites usually occur in groups of three or four bites on the body, and they look like tiny red bumps. A lot of kids end up with flea bites when they play with their dogs or cats.

What You Should Do

If you think you’ve been bitten by a flea, wash the bite with soap and water. Put on some calamine lotion to help with the itching, or an adult can find an anti-itch cream at the drugstore for you. Try not to scratch the bites too much, because this can make the bites become infected.

What a Doctor Will Do

If you get an infection from scratching flea bites, a doctor will need to prescribe medication to clear up the infection.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten

The best way to avoid getting bitten by fleas is to keep the fleas off your pets. Cats and dogs can be bathed in special flea-control shampoo. Your pet can wear a flea collar or take medication once a month, which will also help keep fleas away.

In addition, a professional exterminator can treat your home or yard with flea-control chemicals to keep the flea population down. Wearing an insect repellent also may help. Ask your parents to apply one that contains 10%–30% DEET.


Human bites

What should I do if another child bites my baby?

It’s not uncommon for a child to bite another child during play or out of frustration. Usually the skin isn’t broken and the wound isn’t serious.

If the skin is broken, though, it’s a different story. The human mouth is full of bacteria, and the risk of infection is 10 to 15 percent. Serious bites to the face, hands, or genitals can be especially dangerous.

If your baby has been bitten and the skin isn’t broken, simply wash the area with mild soap and water.

If the skin is broken, wash — but don’t scrub — the wound with mild soap and running water for three to five minutes, then cover it with a clean bandage. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth and elevate the area if possible.

If the skin is broken, you’ll need to take your baby to see his doctor, who will clean and examine the wound. She’ll also give you directions for keeping the wound clean.

Unless the bite is very serious or on your baby’s face, the doctor will probably prefer not to give your baby stitches. Stitching the bite closed can increase the risk of infection.

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The doctor may prescribe a short course of antibiotics to prevent infection, depending on the location and severity of the bite.

What kinds of infections can be spread by biting?

Bites can transmit bacteria such as staph and strep that normally exist in the human mouth. It’s also possible to transmit serious illnesses like hepatitis.

Although experts don’t rule out the possibility of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) being transmitted by a human bite, it’s extremely unlikely. For HIV to be transmitted, the person who is infected would have to be bleeding, break the skin of the person he is biting, and bleed into the wound. There are no reported cases of HIV transmission through a human bite without blood-to-blood contact.

How can I tell if the area is infected?

If your baby shows any of these signs of infection, call the doctor immediately:

  • Increased swelling, redness, or tenderness
  • Pus
  • Fever of 100 degrees or higher
  • Red streaks or a feeling of heat emanating from the bite

Also see your baby’s doctor if the bite doesn’t heal in ten days.

What can I do to prevent future bites?

If your baby was bitten at daycare, talk to the caregiver right away. Ask her to alert the parents of the child who bit your baby.

If a sibling bit your child, you’ll want to address the cause of the sibling’s behavior and keep an eye on him when he’s with the baby.

New York-Presbyterian. Undated. Human bites.


Biting in child care: What are the risks?

No parent wants to hear that their child has been bitten while in child care (or that their child has bitten a playmate). However, biting is normal behavior for young children and is a common problem.

The good news is that most bites are harmless and don’t break the skin. Those that that do break the skin don’t usually go deep enough to draw blood. If there is blood, infection is rare.

How can I prevent biting?

  • Teach your child not to bite. When your child is old enough to understand, teach her that biting hurts and can be dangerous to her and to the person she bites.
  • Do not pretend to bite your child or let your child bite you in play. Do not bite your child back if they bite. This will not teach them not to bite.
  • Reinforce a “no biting” rule at all times.
  • Young children are still learning self-control. Show your child how to express anger and frustration with words like “no” or “I don’t like that” instead of with biting.
  • Redirect or distract your child if you see a problem developing with a playmate.

Can a bite wound from another child become infected?

Wounds from human bites, especially by young children, don’t usually become infected with bacteria.

Still, some parents are concerned about some of the more serious infections that are transmitted through blood, such as hepatitis B or C, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Infection may occur if a person is infected with any of these viruses and if blood is exchanged as a result of the bite. This situation is very unlikely in the child care setting.

Passed from person to person through blood and other body fluids. It can be passed through sexual intercourse, from mother to baby, and by sharing needles and syringes.

The virus is not passed by contact of saliva with normal skin. Only a bite that breaks the skin can pass hepatitis B, and even then, spread is rare.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is also passed from person to person through blood or other body fluids.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

HIV is passed through sexual intercourse, from mother to baby before or during delivery, or through blood when needles and syringes are shared.

Infection How it spreads What is the risk and what should I do?
Hepatitis B
  • A child with hepatitis B who bites another child and breaks the skin may expose the bitten child to hepatitis B infection.
  • A child who bites a child who has hepatitis B may be exposed to the virus if blood from the bitten child enters the biter’s mouth.
  • Contact your local public health unit or a doctor right away if you are told that:
    • your child bit another child, or
    • your child was bitten, AND
      • the skin was broken, and
      • your child has not received hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Hepatitis C infection is rare in young children.
  • Hepatitis C infection from a bite by a young child is extremely unlikely and has never been reported in child care settings.
  • The chance of transmitting HIV through the bite of a child, even when the skin is broken, is extremely unlikely and has never been reported in child care settings.
  • Giving a child anti-HIV drugs after a bite is not recommended.

How should I care for a wound if a child is bitten?

If a child is bitten while in child care or at play, here’s what you should do:

  • If the skin is not broken, clean the wound with soap and water. Apply a cold compress and soothe the child.
  • If the skin is broken:
    • Let the wound bleed gently. Do not squeeze it.
    • Clean the wound carefully with soap and water.
    • Apply a mild antiseptic such as hydrogen peroxide.
    • Inform the child’s parents (the bitten and the biter).
    • Check to see whether the bitten child has been vaccinated against tetanus and if he has had all of the recommended doses. If not, refer to a doctor or clinic for tetanus vaccine.
    • If either child has not received 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine, the public health unit or a doctor should be notified. Hepatitis B vaccine will usually be recommended right away for that child.
    • Watch the wound over the next few days. If it gets red or begins to swell, the child should be seen by a doctor.


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