I grouped the reasons for biting into 4 categories. In exploring a variety of resources, I found other groupings, but these worked for me within my program, for my situation and for communication with families.
Understanding the differences helped me find the support I needed for the child and parents. As a team, we were able to identify various responses to be used to reduce/stop the incidents of biting whether at home or in care. All the adults that have regular contact with the child who is biting need to understand the reason this behavior is occurring and be committed to the solution and planned responses. Consistent responses are very important in stopping the unwanted behavior.
Experimental Biter: Infants and toddlers may experience discomfort when teething. A natural response by the child is to apply pressure to the gums by biting on things. Imitation is one of the primary ways children learn, so it is not uncommon for a child to bite after they have observed this behavior. Infants do not understand the difference between biting a toy and biting a person, until taught.
- If the child is using muscles in new ways, provide a variety of stimulating play materials (hard/soft, rough/smooth, heavy/light) and plan for plenty of active play indoors and outdoors.
- For teething pain offer appropriate things to chew on for relief, such as chewy foods, teething toys, or prefrozen toweling.
- Discourage play which involves “pretend” biting. Infants may not have a strong receptive language yet, but your tone and simple statement does convey it is not a good thing.
Frustrated Biter: Frustration does not always connect with anger. Think broader. Many times an infant or toddler bites when trying to interact with another child. At this age, the child has not yet developed the social skills to indicate that they want to play or even want help.
- Explain to the biter that biting hurts.
- Watch for signs of rising frustration.
- Continue development of language skills.
- If your child is frustrated in expressing his/her needs and wants, model a response that reflects what you believe they are trying to communicate.
- Help the child make connections with others.
Threatened Biter: Young children can be threatened by new or changing situations such as a parent returning to work, a new baby, or parents separating. Help him or her talk about feelings even when he or she says things like “I hate my new baby.”
- Provide special nurturing in a warm and reassuring manner. *Note there are mixed views on using the term “safe”. This is especially important if the underlying situation may be abuse or neglect. There is a legal implication around “safe” that I do not clearly understand, but I did my best to stop using “safe”.
- The child may become threatened by situations such as newly separated parents, the death of a grandparent or a mother returning to work.
Power Biter: Toddlers have a strong need for independence and control. Very often the response children get from biting helps to satisfy this need.
- Provide positive attention when not biting to develop a sense of personal power without aggressive behavior involved.
- Provide opportunities to make age-appropriate choices and have some control.
- Give positive attention as new self-help skills and independence develop.
- Reinforce positive social behavior, such as sharing toys, or helping a friend.
I wanted to move beyond reaction mode and stop the biting before it started. Once I knew what prompted the biting, I could step in to ease the tension or redirect an activity before it ended in a bite. Young children are sponges for learning, yet they have not developed strong problem-solving and social skills. These are important lessons for us to start early on with all children, but especially for those experiencing challenging behaviors.
I set up a Biting Log (checklist of questions) to use when assessing a biting situation:
I also had a reflection checklist:
- How was the situation handled?
- Why do you think the biting may be happening?
- What seemed to trigger the behavior?
- Does the child bite himself? Objects? Others/one in particular?
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