Oh boy, another day another incident report. Biting again. It’s no walk in the park as a teacher or parent to know your child is being bit or to know that your child is the one biting their friends! For some it may only happen once or twice, for others it can be a constant struggle. So why do kids bite and how can we stop it from happening? I’m here to tell you that this will not last forever and YES there are techniques to prevent biting!
As a teacher I have come across many different children who bite or have been consistently bitten at school. There are many variables that come into play with biting but what most people don’t realize is that biting is developmentally appropriate.
Yes, you read that right! Biting is an instinctive and perfectly normal response for young children to have. Don’t worry, your child or student is not “violent” or “weird” in any way-biting is normal! That does not mean we allow kids to bite their friends willy nilly, but getting an understanding of where the biting behavior is originating from and knowing that this is a normal response can help us to redirect this behavior. Remember normal does not always mean okay or correct. It is normal to want to touch the glowing red stovetop but that does not mean it is okay or the best idea to do so. Children have to learn that biting is not okay, just as they are taught everything else in this crazy world!
So where is the biting behavior coming from?
There are many, many reasons a child may bite. Some of the most common reasons are as follows:
Common reasons children bite
- teething/hurting gums
- they need oral stimulation
- hungry (though not for people!)
- they are exploring the world/curiosity/what happens when I bite mom or a friend?
- Unstable environment
- coming across a new situation they do not know how to handle
- they are handling emotions they cannot or do not know how to express i.e. anger, exhaustion, jealousy, frustration, even happiness
- personal space is being invaded
- they do not feel safe
- seeking attention of any kind-good or bad
- trying to initiate play and unsure of how to do so
- their schedule has been changed or interrupted
and lastly the most common reason of all is that they do not know how to effectively communicate their needs. Biting is a way that children say everything and anything they are feeling without using words. This is why biting is more common in younger children. We as parents and educators must teach kids how to communicate their needs without resorting to biting.
Common reasons children are bit
- getting too close to their friends, invading personal space
- taking toys, not sharing, or being mean
- Note that it is not the child’s fault that they have been bit. However these are common behaviors that happen before a bite occurs. Watching out for this type of behavior can help with prevention.
How can we correct the biting behavior?
This starts with finding the source of the biting. Most likely biting is occurring because of one of the behaviors listed above. To find out why specifically, I recommend doing the following:
- Keep a written log of every bite. Note the day, time, what was happening in the time leading up to the incident, and thorough descriptions of the incident itself.
- Stick to a schedule. Kids thrive on repetitive, stable, safe environments.
- Make sure the schedule has consistent transitions. This can be done in the form of an activity or song to signal the end of one category like playtime going into another like lunch.
- Note any changes at home or school that could be possible stressors.
- Parents talk to your child’s teacher to get on the same page, teachers talk to your parents. This is a team effort that requires all the caregivers in child’s/student’s life to come together to solve.
After following these steps and gathering the required information, you may see a pattern developing. A simple adjustment to the day to day routine could be all that is needed to solve the situation. For example,
- Johnny regularly bites his friends in the handwashing line before lunch and/or snack time. He may be hungry and acting out in frustration. A solution could be an earlier lunchtime, making sure Johnny is eating until he is full at lunch so he is not overly hungry at snack, or giving Johnny a “special job” like helping Ms. Teacher with a task to distract him from his hunger.
- Little Ella is constantly biting her friend Susie. They are best of friends and love to play with each other until suddenly- CHOMP! the crying ensues. Pay close attention, this is when the activity log really helps narrow down the exact issue. Ella may be biting when Susie is too close for comfort, toys are not being shared appropriately, or Ella may simply be excited and unsure how to appropriately express herself.
- Baby Grace has been crying and trying to bite anyone around her. She may be overly tired and/or teething. Making sure she has had plently of rest, teething toys are readily available, and close supervision can prevent future bites.
Actions to avoid
- labeling a child as a biter, bully, or troublemaker as it can lead to the child having a negative self-view and/or their classmates treating them differently
- Biting back violence does not solve violence, it reinforces it
- excessive yelling, anger, or shaming it is our responsibility as caregivers to model appropriate behavior
- too much attention One of the reasons children bite is for attention- good or bad.
Actions to take
- When biting occurs a firm “NO”, “No biting,” or “No, biting hurts” will suffice.
- Have the biter say sorry
- clean and ice the affected area to reduce swelling and bruising
- Offer plenty of texture rich foods and teething toys to quelsh sensory needs
- provide an age appropriate environment with appropriate expectations
- Provide a consistent, predictable routine
- Use the positive reinforcement method. Praise children for making good choices and using their words instead of biting. Providing attention for good behavior can prevent seeking attention for bad behavior.
Prevention is Key!
The best way to deal with biting is through prevention. Talk with children of all ages to set clear expectations. You can read books about biting. Giving toddlers and preschoolers words like “stop, too close, and I don’t like that” to use in situations where they are uncomfortable can help. You can use sign language for Infants and toddlers, at this age many children can sign long before they’re able and comfortable with using words. Working on communication and the appropriate way to act will work wonders! Make sure as a caregiver that you watch children closely. Look out for tense situations and step in as needed to prevent a bite from happening!