Take a Bite Out of Biting

young girl next to adult arm with bite marksToddlers and other young children are supposed to bite things. Things like Oreos and Cheerios and various other kinds of food, some of which don’t even end with the letter “o.”

But kids are not supposed to bite each other. Number one, it hurts. And number two, it usually makes the other kids (not to mention their parents/caretakers) strongly dislike the biting child.

So what can you do if a child in your care is using other kids as hors d’oeuvres?

Well, you can remember that very young children don’t yet have a toolbox of language to describe their feelings and experiences. So they express themselves with the tools that they do have – sounds and actions… like biting. That biting could be a way of saying “I’m scared,” or “I don’t want to share,” or “I’m bored,” or yes, even “I’m hungry.” Try to notice any patterns to the biting – it might happen with certain other kids, in particular situations or places. Once you have an idea of why the child is biting, you can try to change or prevent the situations that provoke the behavior. Teaching the child to use simple words like “mine” or “no” or hand gestures that indicate “stop” or “help” can give the little biter much more effective tools for dealing with frustration. Being in close proximity to the child in possible bite-worthy situations can help them feel more secure and less likely to bite… and also give you the chance to intervene if necessary.

Ultimately, though, it may take a while to put a halt to the behavior. If biting does happen, do your best to stay calm. A big response is likely to increase everyone’s anxiety… and all the attention might even be reinforcing to the biter child. Quickly and calmly remove the child from the situation. After the smoke’s cleared, work more with the child on alternate ways for them to express themselves… and think about how you might prevent the situation that caused the biting from happening again. And if you’d like to learn more, check out the SEFEL article, Responding to your Child’s Bite.