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baby on mat biting finger
By keiki

Biting in Early Childhood

Biting is a typical behaviour seen in children, especially the toddler age group (1-3 years). Children are programmed to use their mouths to explore the world around them. As they grow and develop language, self-control skills, along with other social and emotional competences they normally grow out of this behaviour. Although biting is common, it can be harmful and distressing for children and parents.

Why do children bite?

Babies and toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, such as teething or exploring a new toy or object with their mouth. As they get older and begin to understand cause-and-effect, they also might bite a person to see if they can get a reaction.

Biting can be a way to get attention or express how they feel. Frustration, anger, and fear are strong emotions and children (especially toddlers) lack the language skills to communicate how they are feeling. Instead, they may bite as a way of saying, “Pay attention to me!” or “I don’t like that!” Toddlers may also learn that biting can be used as a tool for accessing a desired item.

What to do if your child is bitten

It is never easy to hear your child has been bitten. Caregivers’ attention should be first and foremost with the child who has been bitten to ensure they are comforted, and the injury is addressed with whatever aid necessary.

When ready, children can be supported with self-help skills in learning to protect their bodies by teaching them to use big, loud words and gestures such as “Stop” and “Don’t hurt me!” Teaching children that they have the right to protect their bodies at a young age is an important safeguard to learn. You can encourage and practice big loud words at home, such as “Stop”, “No”, “I’ve had enough” and “Don’t hurt me!”

How to respond if your child bites another child

It is best to always first comfort the child that has been bitten. Let the biter see you comforting and attending to the bitten child. You can also involve them in comforting the bitten child as this may help the biter who is likely to be feeling upset and confused about hurting a playmate.

Do not shout at or exclude the biter. Be calm and firm and explain (very simply for a toddler) that ‘biting hurts’, ‘teeth are sharp and hurt’, or ‘no more biting’. Then, redirect the child into another activity and be present for them.

To help prevent your child from biting again, you can work on giving the child ways to express their wants – how to say ‘no’, ‘that’s mine’ and ‘stop’ to communicate without biting or hurting (e.g., by putting the palm of the hand in the air like a stop sign).

Minimising biting at childcare

Unfortunately, there is no ‘quick fix’ when it comes to biting. However, the number of incidences may be reduced by having consistency between daycare and home. These are some strategies we utilise at Keiki Early Learning:

  • Giving lots of affection. Positive physical connection releases oxytocin – which reduces stress hormones.
  • Providing ample space for movement. Toddlers need a lot of space – even more than older children – for movement and physical play.
  • Making sure the daily schedule or timetable is relaxed and responsive to each child’s personal needs and wellbeing.
  • Providing plenty of resources so children are not put into the position of having disputes over toys and access to play equipment.
  • Being present and giving the child a great deal of individual attention and time. Research shows children thrive on connection.
  • Providing opportunities to learn about spatial awareness and personal space at a developmentally appropriate level.
  • Helping children to regulate by naming, describing and understanding what emotions are being felt, why and what you can do when you have those emotions. There are a range of books available that talk about emotions.
  • Recommending outside support; for example Speech and Language, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist and other avenues. We work through these processes in collaboration with families.

Biting and Positive Guidance at Keiki

Positive guidance is an integral part of our educational program at Keiki Early Learning. We take time to look at a child holistically to see where behaviours such as biting may originate from. We work in collaboration with families to implement strategies and create a consistent approach between home and the service. Contact your nearest Early Learning school to find out more about positive guidance at Keiki.