Why Do Children Bite?

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As parents and child care providers, we are often frustrated with the problem of biting. Toddlers bite for a variety of reasons, so it is our job to work together and determine why they are biting. We can alleviate some of this by identifying the triggers that lead to biting. Once we identify the triggers, we can begin to understand what changes need to be made. 

In my experience as a child care provider, children bite for a variety of reasons, including being frustrated due to lack of communication skills when trying convey their needs.  They can also bite due to being overstimulated, bored, tired, or because they are in emotional or physical pain.

Not so long ago, I had a toddler that was biting. During communication with his mom, we realized he was not yet familiar with the English language. As a result, he was biting out of frustration due to his inability to communicate with his teachers. To correct the behavior, I put him in a different classroom with a teacher who spoke both English and Spanish. This helped the child be understood and less stressed, which soon ended the biting.

Children often need more active playtime than they are given. They need to be able to express themselves through a variety of different methods. In my experience as a Director, I have found active play to be very successful.  Active play is where toddlers learn to express themselves and understand their environment. Some examples of active play include: dramatic play, scribbling with crayons, and crushing play-do. Learn more about active play in our blog post here.

Child care providers need to remember a child’s environment is not limited to the child care center, they have a home and it is structured much differently. At home, a child is used to having their own space and their own toys. When they are in an environment where they have other children taking away their space or toy, it can be very frustrating.

I once had a child who was new to child care and quickly began biting the other children. We worked with him to determine what triggered his biting by changing his environment, direct contact, and our approach. After several adjustments, and communication with his parents, we realized he was overstimulated. He was an only child and was not used to the idea of sharing. Prior to attending child care, he did not have to interact with other children all day long. It became too overwhelming for him. To correct the behavior, we moved him into a smaller classroom, which gave him time to learn and interact with smaller groups of children. Eventually he was able to move back into the larger classroom without any issues.

Identifying the cause of the biting will be key to overcoming it. It will take effort on the part of the parents and the child care provider to identify the cause. An observant teacher who is in tune with the class can often identify many of the causes for biting. Communicating these causes with the parents will often identify correlating triggers in the home.

If you see your child getting frustrated, distract them with a different toy or story. Remove them from their environment or change their environment. If your child is tired, help them calm down with a nap or a story. When you start to find the triggers or the stress points, you can begin to help your child find a new outlet to express their frustration. 

--Pattie Shomaker, Former Child Care Center Director, Utah