Biting. No one likes to think about it. The hard truth is that, yes... it is NORMAL and almost every child in a daycare classroom has either attempted it, or done it to another child/staff member. As an Early Childhood Educator I would like to take the opportunity to communicate some of my strategies for dealing with this common issue in my classroom.
First thing to understand is, “Why do children bite?”
Typically toddlers bite for 3 different reasons.
To relieve teething pain- If a child is biting because of teething we are careful to offer more appropriate items for the child to gnaw/bite to relieve their pain. We also take the time to explain to the child’s friends that the toy is to help them with their teeth.
Frustration/anger or intense joy- the key with this one is prediction and redirection. Children that are as young as our Lynx group have not mastered their self control yet, nor do they understand all their emotions yet. It is important to remember that fact when you come to pick up your child and see the incident form waiting to be signed. We all need to have realistic expectations of our toddlers.
Experimental- Sometimes children bite just to see if something happens. They want to see what reaction they will receive. Dealing with this one is not much different than when dealing with an emotional bite.
When diffusing a biting occurrence it is important to comfort the child who was bitten first. Showing attention, even if it is negative, to the biter teaches them that biting gets them immediate attention. Instead, first comfort the child that was bitten. After, turn to the biter, get to their level and use a calm, firm tone to explain, “Biting is not allowed.” Use simple language to describe feelings. “Sarah took your ball. Did you feel angry? You bit Sarah. We do not bite our friends. Teeth are for eating, not biting our friends. That hurt Sarah.” Then show them an appropriate way of dealing with a friend who grabs toys from them.
Language that I try to always use whenever in a “biting situation” is as follows: “Teeth are for eating food, not for biting our friends. That hurts our friend’s bodies!” “Instead of biting, use your words and gentle touches.” Then I would model the language and behavior that I’d prefer the children use. Often the children will want to hug/kiss to show affection/apology. Having a child who bites, or is bitten frequently can be a heartbreaking thing. It is NOT forever and educators in no way hold it against them. We know they are learning about social and physical boundaries every day. Self regulation takes a lot of practice! It is important not to label any children as biters. Negative labels can affect how you view your child and even how they view themselves.
As hard as it is, punishing a biter is not effective. Punishment is not going to help them learn discipline and self control. Instead they get angry, upset or embarrassed. It also undermines the relationship that you/a staff has built with them. In the end prevention is key. Seeing the moments before the bites happen takes practice. Understanding the precursor moments helps parents/educators assist children in managing their actions.
In my experience, biting occurrences happen most often during a transition. [A transition means a time between two activities. IE: diapering/bathroom before lunch, getting dressed before outdoor play] Transitions are some of the most stressful points in our days in school. Everyone is either tired, hungry or needs a staff’s attention RIGHT NOW. Of course, these are the moments when children’s emotions are running high and it makes sense that this is when they would bite. A strategy that has proven effective is to keep group sizes small, take time for each child during transitions and generally slow things down so that each child gets the one on one that they need during these tough periods in the day. For your own peace of mind, talk to your child’s educators. Even better, talk to your child. The issue of biting doesn’t need to be such a feared, whispered about topic.
-Lynx Team Leader, Hayley
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