By Emma Thomas
There are many challenges in child development but biting is one of the trickiest phases! It is the behaviour which causes the most stress and angst in early childhood as it affects everyone – children, families and educators. Many children will experience biting, either being bitten by another child or being the one doing the biting.
As parents and educators it is our responsibility to keep children safe! And so when biting occurs we can feel like we’re failing. Although it is a normal stage of child development it can be very confronting if your child comes home with a bite mark. And it hurts if they bite you!
Biting usually occurs in children between 1-3years old and often occurs in group settings but can also occur at home. This is an age of significant development where children are learning many new skills.
Unfortunately there is no magic cure for biting, but with some strategies and a better understanding of child development we can help children move through this phase.
Why do children bite?
- Frustration – being unable to communicate their wants and needs can cause great frustration for young children
- Teething and mouth pain – many children suffer greatly with teething and find relief through biting.
- Exploration – young children love to mouth objects as part of their exploration process. They are learning about the world and this provides them with new information.
- Lack of self-regulation and self-control – young children still haven’t learnt these skills.
- Overstimulation – when children are dysregulated they will be more likely to engage in biting behaviour. Always consider HALTS (hungry, angry, lonely, tired, stressed).
What can we do?
- Observe – try to understand why the child is biting. There might be a very simple solution if you can uncover the root of the problem!
- Acknowledge what is happening if it’s obvious ‘I can see you wanted a turn with that toy’ or ‘you seem hungry, let get a snack’.
- Provide appropriate environments – toddlers need a balance between challenging, stimulating activities and quiet, safe places.
- Ensure there are enough toys and resources, biting often occurs when children are fighting over a toy or for space at an activity.
- Develop good relationships – children need secure relationships with all the adults in their lives. Regular, positive interactions help to limit biting behaviour.
- If your child is biting (or being bitten) at their early childhood setting ask to see the biting policies and create a shared strategy to respond to biting.
- Shadow/supervise – the best thing we can do is spot biting before it happens. This allows us to intervene and protect both children.
- Redirect – offer a teething ring, a drink or water or something to eat.
- Remain calm – always attend to the child who was bitten first and reassure them. Then calmly remind the other child not to bite and provide an alternative.
- Keep things simple ‘I won’t let you bite me/your sister/your friend. Biting hurts.’
- Read books like –
- ‘Teeth Are Not for Biting’ by Elizabeth Verdick, ill. Marieka Heinlen – a lovely, simple book which explains what our teeth are for! It covers different reasons children may bite and provides alternatives.
- ‘Little Dinos Don’t Bite’ by Michael Dahl, ill. Adam Record – a fun book about Little Dino, he has started biting everything! Little Dino learns what things are for biting and what things aren’t.
As with most areas of child development my final suggestion is to wait! Most children will grow out of biting and our job is to minimise danger to others during this phase. If your child is biting excessively or at an older age, I encourage you to speak to your GP.
For more information check out biting-in-childcare.pdf (startingblocks.gov.au)