Thursday, July 7, 2011

Biting in Child Care: Why It Happens and How to Stop It

Biting is a common occurrence when groups of toddlers spend time together, and it's one of the concerns both teachers and parents contact us about often.  Most of the time, children are biting because they haven't yet learned more appropriate ways to get their needs met.  By spending a little time carefully observing the child and noting when, where, and how the biting usually happens, you can often figure out how you can stop this upsetting behavior.

Ask yourself these questions:

When does this child bite?  If it's close to meal time, he might be biting because he's hungry.  If it's before nap, she might be biting more when she's tired.  If it's during free play, the child might be having trouble asking for what he or she wants.

What is the child's mood like when he or she bites?  Focusing on the child's mood can also help determine the cause.  He or she might be expressing anger or frustration.  The child might also simply be taking in sensory information from his environment and learning about cause and effect.

Does this child bite when there is less supervision?  This is often the case.  While biting can happen even with the closest adult supervision, if caregivers stay near children, they can often intervene before biting takes place.

Does this child bite one person in particular?  If so, focus on the interactions the child is having with this person when trying to figure out the cause of the biting.

How much language is the child using?  Young children often bite because they don't yet have the language skills to express themselves in more acceptable ways.  If you determine lack of language skills to be a cause of biting in your classroom, it's important to help the child learn to "use his words" to tell others what he wants and needs.

Once you've determined the reason the child bites, you can begin to work on a plan for reducing the number of incidents.

Some strategies to reduce biting in the classroom:
  • Offer a variety of activity choices that are developmentally appropriate for the children in the room.
  • Teach children to use words to express emotions.
  • Make sure the child who bites is always close to an adult.
  • Change the classroom schedule as necessary, possibly moving up meal times or rest times, or breaking up unstructured periods.
  • Have multiples of favorite toys available.
  • Make sure the room is arranged so children have plenty of space to move and play.
  • Spend quality one-on-one time with the child when he or she is behaving well.
For more information on biting and other challenging behaviors, check out So This Is Normal Too?: Teachers and Parents Working Out Developmental Issues in Young Children by Deborah Hewett.

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