Toddlers & Biting
Biting is common amongst infants and toddlers, especially between 1-2 years old. It can be daunting to hear that your child is biting and upsetting their little friends, or even more upsetting, that your child has been bitten. So how can we deal with this kind of behaviour?
Why do toddlers bite?
· Lack of communication skills such as hunger, fatigue, frustration, anger, excitement
· Are overwhelmed
· Need more active time
· Are overtired
· Experimenting / exploring what happens when an action is done
· Exploring the sensation of biting
· Have a need for oral stimulation
· Imitating other children and adults
· Attention seeking
· An act of self defence
Understanding why it is happening is the key to addressing the problem. Ask yourself, what is the child achieving from the bite or what is in it for them? What was their initial reaction to the bite? Most of the time, you will realise that the biting is not done for the purpose of being ‘bold’ but rather as it is an effective way of expressing their needs. Once we change our views on the behaviour, we can respond more effectively and help the child in finding solutions/ways to respond. It is always easier to show children how to respond rather than how not to respond. Role playing is our biggest asset!
How can we deal with a toddler that is biting?
· STAY CALM! It is important for the child to not get an obvious reaction from their unwanted actions.
· Remove the child that is biting from the situation and go down to their eye level whilst explaining to them that the other child is hurt and sad. Firmly say, “No biting”
· If the child is upset, wait for them to calm down.
· Ask the child about the feelings and events that have led up to the bite. If the child is verbal, start to give names to the emotions they are describing which will teach them to manage negative feelings.
· Discuss other ways in which the child could have dealt with those feelings instead of biting.
· Reinforce that biting hurts! This may seem obvious, but children are still developing their sense of others having feelings. They are still developing their sense of empathy.
What can we do if a child has a habit of biting?
· Stay close to the child. Observe what situations the biting occurs in.
· Observe the different signals the child gives. Only intervene if the child seems ready to bite.
· Help the child with communicating their wants and needs and ways to express strong feelings.
· Reinforce positive behaviour by acknowledging the child’s appropriate words and actions.
· Be sure your behaviour expectations are age-appropriate and individually appropriate for the child. Expecting a child to do something they are unable to do can cause children to feel stressed. Stress can lead to biting.
· Offer foods with a variety of textures to meet your child’s sensory needs.
· Teach your child words for setting limits, such as “no”, “stop”, or “I don’t like it.”
What strategies are not helpful and should not be used to address a child’s biting habits?
· Avoid labelling a child as a “biter.” Negative labels can affect the child’s feelings about themselves.
· Never bite a child back to punish or show him how it feels to be bitten. This will teach the child that violence is acceptable to be used when trying to solve a problem.
· Don’t yell, shame or show anger towards the child.
· Avoid giving the child too much attention after an incident. This can cause the child to repeat the behaviour just for the attention, even though it is negative attention.
· Do not force the child who has bitten to apologize or play with the child they have bitten. This will teach the child that ‘sorry’ simply fixes the behaviour.
· Punishment does not help children to learn discipline and self-control. Instead, it makes children angry, upset and embarrassed. It also undermines the relationship between you and your child.
Little Gems Montessori Nursery Biting Policy
At Little Gems Montessori Nursery, we acknowledge that biting is a common behaviour among young children. However, stopping a child from biting is not always easy. Young children have less developed verbal skills and are impulsive without a lot of self-control. We recognise that the majority of children will learn not to bite in time and we are very clear, calm and firm when a child does bite and offer praise and warmth when they don’t.
If an incident of biting does occur, the following procedure will be followed:
· The biting will be interrupted with a firm "No…we don't bite people!"
· Staff will stay calm and will not overreact.
· The bitten child will be comforted.
· Staff will remove the biter from the situation. The biter will be given something to do that is satisfying.
· The bite shall be assessed. Should the skin be broken:
The wound will be cleansed with soap and water, and ice applied. The wound would not be covered as this may increase the risk for infection. The child’s parent/carer will be informed by a senior staff member immediately.
· If the skin is not broken:
after having assessed the bite, it will be cleansed and ice applied. The parent/carer will be notified when collecting their child.
The parents of both children will be notified of the biting incident. Appropriate forms will be filled out by the staff member that witnessed the incident for all children involved (accident/incident report).
Confidentiality of all children involved will be maintained.
Biting is always taken seriously, and we do our best to ensure that it is stopped as soon as possible. Extra support is given to the biting child who will be shadowed closely until the phase passes. We will NEVER disclose to parents the name of the child who has bitten. It is unnecessary to know their identity, however if a parent finds out who has bitten their child, we strongly recommend they do not complain directly to the other parents. Try to remember that all young children are potential biters.
If your child has bitten another child, we strongly recommend that you do not punish them. When child bites show disapproval and very firmly and calmly say “No we do not bite. It hurts and it is not nice”. Use gesture and facial expression to reinforce the message. As parents/carers it is important that you are calm and consistent in your handling of it at home.
Procedure for managing persistent biting incidents:
If biting becomes a persistent behavioural issue the following procedure will be followed:
· Staff to meet with the Principle for advice, support and strategy planning.
· Observations will be carried out to try to understand what may trigger the biting in addition to:
Chart every occurrence, and indicate location, time, participants, behaviours, staff present and circumstances.
Let the relevant parents know that there is a problem and the procedures that will be followed to deal with it.
Teach non-biting responses to situations and reinforce appropriate behaviour.
Be mindful of children who tend to be bitten: Head off biting situations.
Teach responses to potential biting situations: “No” or “” Don’t hurt me!”
Hold a meeting with the parents of the biting child to develop a plan of action.
Schedule follow-up meetings or telephone conversations as needed.
If an occurrence happens more than 3 times in one day, or on 5 occasions over a week, the parent/guardian will be called to pick up the biting child. The child may return the following day.
In extreme circumstances and if deemed in the best interest of the child, the school and other children, Little Gems Montessori Nursery may suspend the child from the nursery for the duration of the biting stage. Written warning will be given to the parents before this action will be taken.
Maria Deliyiannis is one of Little Gems’ Montessori guides in our Larnaca setting’s Peridot classroom. At the beginning of a new school year biting incidents may happen as our newcomer littluns enter their new environment and meet new children and adults. It is daunting and upsetting for all parties, however, as the article points out – it is temporary and will pass. Lots of reading can be found around this topic, however, a quick solution seems impossible; it is a phase and it will pass usually within a time period of no more than 6 months.