Early childhood toddler biting

Dealing with a toddler biting can be very frustrating and challenging it is very important to understand why toddlers may bite. There are several well known reasons and these are outlined below:

Communication: Fear, anger and frustration

At the age when toddlers may begin to bite they are often not able to express themselves as quickly or competently as older children can. They may not have the words to say what they want As they are unable to express their anger, hurt or fear they then become frustrated with not being able to get their message across to the other person - who is then bitten Imagine how frustrated you might become if you are unable to communicate your needs and wants to another person. As adults we can usually find a way to reasonably deal with this type of situation but young children have not yet fully developed reasoning skills.

Remember as young babies they would explore the world around them by using their mouths so naturally they may still use their mouths to respond to certain situations.

Attention seeking

Often adults are shocked by children biting and can react in ways that actually encourage the child to bite again. Think about the amount of attention children biting receive. Even negative attention can be seen as a way to get an adults attention, and often this attention is quick and intense.

Power

Young children are fairly powerless in their lives. There are not many opportunities where they can gain control of their environment. Think about how powerful a toddler bitingmay feel when they bite and suddenly they are the centre of attention. They have also managed to exert control over another being

Teething

Some experts believe that if a child is teething this may lead to biting. It must feel nice to clamp down on something to soothe the pain of teething. Toddlers and young children may bite into the first thing to ease the pain - and it just might be another human being!!!

So what can you do to help stop toddler biting?

Observe: Be proactive

Watch to see if there are any reasons that might be responsible for the toddler biting. If the child is in an early childhood centre watch to see if the biting follows any of these
  • Fighting over toys, possessions, people or space

  • Being near certain or the same children (is there a dynamic that needs to be addressed?)

  • During certain routine times such as group times or meal times? (Is the child bored or frustrated?)

  • The child trying to communicate verbally and not being able to
If you do notice that there is a trigger (and there usually is!!!) it is important that you address that trigger. It is more beneficial to be proactive (being able to stop something before it happens) than being reactive (having to respond once something has happened).

It is very important that if a child is biting in an early childhood centre or at home that the question is asked -"What about this environment might be provoking this behaviour?" Too often we. put all the emphasis on the child when in fact the environment is playing a leading part. Think about the lack of resources that are available in many centres, the lack of space and the lack of real and meaningful interactions between children and others in care. It can be no wonder that a toddler with little or minimal language can become frustrated.

Reactions:

  • The most important thing is to stay calm -this may be difficult as it is never nice to see a child or adult being bitten.

  • You must ensure the child who has been bitten is seen to immediately

  • Tell the toddler biting is not ok and that it hurt. Keep your voice calm but firm. This does not mean shouting or yelling at the child. Remember they may be seeking attention and any attention is better than none!!

  • If you know why the child has bitten then offer alternatives. If they are teething make it clear there is something else that they can bite on. If the child is fighting over toys that they were playing with first then tell them to say in a loud voice simple words such as "mine' or "stop"-which should alert you to what is happening and hopefully you can step in before the biting occurs.

  • Redirect the child. Toddlers can be very easily redirected into other experiences. Punishing for long periods of time does not work well -remember toddlers do not have fully developed reasoning

  • It is important that you acknowledge when children do "the right thing". If you have a child that has bitten and they are engaged in experiences remember to praise their behaviour. Remember if they are seeking attention better to give it for appropriate behaviours.
What not to do

  • Shout, yell or scream at a toddler biting -this gets you nowhere and can escalate the problem

  • Bite the child!! -this only shows that biting is an ok way to resolve a problem in an aggressive manner. It also shows that if you are bigger you can resort to violence to settle issues

  • Shame the child. It is important to remember that children bite for a variety of reasons and shaming them could be confusing for the child
A word about time out:

Time out - At early-childhood-info.com we are not in favour of using time out strategies. At this age children are often put into time out as a "place to think about things". If you understand about a child's developing brain then what they need at this age is relationship building interactions. Having time out is punitive at this age because frankly they do not think about what they have done!! Sitting and talking with them when you are calm and so are they is much more proactive. If children have responsive relationships then they want to do what is right. Let us help them do that!!!
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