Biting is one of the most upsetting behaviors that all young children try out. Parents and caregivers are often frustrated by this experience as it can be both frightening and painful to the children involved. However, biting is the most common and the most difficult repercussion of group care, especially with toddlers.
Children bite for any number of reasons. Children who bite are not bad or destined to be discipline problems. There is no one to blame for a child who bites. It is not the fault of a bad home, bad parents, or bad teachers. It is a natural incident that occurs with very young children in group care.
Teething- As children are getting teeth, often times they will bite. Applying pressure to the gums is comforting for the teething child. Children who have never bitten others frequently start as their teeth begin to come in.
Oral Exploration- Infants and toddlers learn about their world through their senses and through the physical action that they take on their environment. For many children, mouthing an object (and subsequently biting it) is one of their ways of knowing about the object.
Curiosity- Young children like to make things happen. A child may simply want to see what will happen if (s)he bites. Depending on the reaction from both the other child and/or adult, the child may be deterred from biting again.
Language Frustration- Since most toddlers have limited language abilities, biting is a quick and efficient way of getting a message across. Biting, in this case, may or may not be to defend a possession or in response to aggression. It may be the child’s only way to say “Hi,” or “I want to play with you.”
Lack of Self Control and Overstimulation- Young children need adults to help them learn and maintain self control. When children get very excited, they may behave in an out-ofcontrol fashion. If there is not an adult nearby to help him/her to calm down, a child may bite out of enthusiasm.
General Frustration or Boredom- Children whose environment is too challenging, creates too many demands, and/or has too little space can cause a child to bite especially if the child does not have language to express these frustrations. At the same time, if children are not challenged, do not have reasonable expectations put on them, and do not have appropriate activities to engage them, they will bite out of boredom.
The first step is to stop the biting before it occurs. This is done by observing the children and making changes to the environment, adapting the classroom/individual schedule, and/or making changes in the curriculum. Having clear, consistent routines and limits set for the children, provides the predictability that infants and toddlers need in order to learn what is appropriate and acceptable behavior.
When children do bite, caregivers should try to avoid responding in a way that reinforces the biting. The caring attention is focused on the victim. Once the victim has been tended to, a caregiver will talk with biter. Caregivers may be heard saying things such as, “You may not bite children – biting hurts.”
Depending on the circumstances, children may be redirected to other areas to play in order to minimize other biting instances from occurring.
If the frequency in which a particular child bites increases, several steps are taken. The first is that the staff and Site Director meet (daily or weekly depending on the need) to review what is occurring. The circumstances around each incident are reviewed, what was the caregiver’s response, what was happening in the room at that time, who were the other children present, etc. The next step is to make any changes to the environment, schedule, or staffing that may present a problem. During this time, a caregiver may be designated shadow the child who is biting to help him/her respond appropriately to situations where the child may have otherwise bitten. A third step that is taken is to meet with the parent’s of the child who has been biting. At this meeting, caregivers can give details about what they have observed in the classroom and explain what strategies are being used to help the child. It is also a time to gather information from the parents about what is going on at home with the child that may have triggered the onset or increase in biting. During this meeting, a plan of action is put in place. The plan will be specific to that particular child’s needs but will contain a time frame in which to see positive change (usually 2 weeks), what the caregivers will be working on at the center, what the parents will work on at home, and the type of daily communication between parents and caregivers (IE: phone calls, daily written notes, etc.) At the end of the time frame indicated if there have been positive changes observed, the parents and caregivers will meet to decide if other changes to the original plan are needed. If there have been no significant changes in the child’s behavior during the allotted time, the Site Director will meet with the parent’s to discuss the next step. The Site Director and the Program Director will also meet to determine whether the child will be allowed to remain in the program.
Although biting upsets us more than other aggressive behaviors, it is vital to remember that it is quite normal for infants and toddlers. If handled in a calm, matter-of-fact, and consistent manner it will disappear to be replaced with more appropriate actions.