Submitted by The Growing Tree

Did you ever wonder why children bite?  Do you realize that the first stages of speech begins with the hands and mouth?  Children who can not yet talk, or can not make themselves understood, often revert to hitting, grabbing and biting.  In most cases, this behavior is not out of anger nor is it meant to hurt!   In most cases, it IS a way “to make known”.  In other words, “No one is listening to me, so I must find a way to make myself or my wants known, if I hit, bite, or take what I want, that will get their attention!”

Often too, especially with toddlers, the means to verbalize feelings, especially frustration or hurt, are very limited, thus they resort retaliating by means of pushing, biting or hitting.

Children, NORMAL children, children of great homes, children with wonderful parents, children with all the love and happiness in the world, may BITE!  This is normal in a child’s development!  Especially SPEECH development!

Think of it this way.  We must teach children to form words with their mouth, so that they no long need to use their mouth to bite.  In every biting situation, there IS a reason.  Maybe John took Sally’s ball.  Maybe Sally kept poking Cindy.  Maybe Cindy kept teasing Joey.  MAYBE Joey tried to tell the teacher, but the teacher was busy helping Patty who fell.  Maybe Joey kept telling Cindy to stop, but Joey could not find a way to make known his frustrations with Cindy known, so, Joey bit her!  And guess what?  It worked!  Cindy stopped teasing Joey!

We as Teachers AND Parents are OBLIGATED to find out WHY a child is biting.  To give this child other means to communicate his/her needs.  Sometimes the answer is not as clear as the scenario above.  SOMETIMES it may take a very long time to discover!  But in the end, the reason IS there, and often much simpler than you think!  Sometimes it may be hidden because it may be something that happened outside your care, as in the scenario below.

One summer Lisa accidentally hit Chris very hard with a stick, while playing in Chris’s backyard. Lisa threw the stick down and ran away because she was scared she would get in trouble. Chris was startled, never saw it coming, he was scared, hurt, and now he was all alone in his yard with no friend to play with. Chris went into his fort to sulk. By the time he went into his house, there was not physical sign of the incident, no one ever knew what happened because Chris never said a word to his parents.  Chris didn’t get a chance to play with Lisa again for the rest of the summer. Chris remembers it well however, even though it happened a month ago.  At Kindergarten, the teacher asked Lisa to take a seat next to Chris.  Chris in defense, bit Lisa. The teacher saw the whole thing.  Lisa did nothing to Chris to provoke that bite!  AH!  In the teacher’s mind and eyes, YES!  Lisa was being a very good little girl and did as her teacher told!  Chris however, was in fear for his life!  Chris was protecting himself, he was asserting himself to the mean girl who hurt him!  (Because we have the whole story, we KNOW Lisa is not mean, we KNOW it was an accident, we KNOW Chris is not mean, we KNOW Chris is afraid of Lisa. Chris however, does NOT know Lisa didn’t mean to hurt him, and that she ran away because she was scared.  Chris thinks she hurt him on purpose then ran away laughing!)

NONE of us has a crystal ball that we can look into and see the reasons why.  As hard as it is to find them, they CANbe found!

Communication is KEY!  We MUST find the reason. We MUST stay calm and show no anger to the one who bit.  We MUST care for and give a lot of TLC to the one bitten.  We MUST get the WHOLE story.  If we are angry with the biter, we will NEVER get the reason from him.  If we are not careful in the way we talk, our body language and our frustrations with the situation, especially if its recurring, then we can NOT do our job and find the reason and correct it. We MUST help the biter (and his Parents), we MUST protect the rest of the children in the class!  We MUSTkeep our classrooms safe and enjoyable!

HINT:  When a child bites more than once, be sure to keep a close eye on the situation.  Does it happen in a particular area, with a particular child, over a particular toy, at a particular time of day?  KEEP RUNNING NOTES!  If it is one toy, simply remove the toy from the room for a while until the child has developed better communication skills.  You can periodically TRY the toy in the room.  If however, it is one particular child, FIRST, keep the children separated.  SECOND try to find out why the children clash.  Once you find out why, then you can start mending what is broken between them. With very young children (older infants and toddlers, you may not find out why because of lack of communication skills, however, periodically try, with supervision, to let them play together.  The biter may eventually “forgive”  “grow out of biting” “forgotten” or developed better communication skills.

If it happens in a particular area, then simply more supervision is needed for that area and perhaps some revamping of the area is required. (making it smaller, larger, less toy or activities, less children at a time in that area, etc.)

If biting happens at a particular time of day, you may want to take a look at your classroom schedule, maybe it is too demanding at that time of day, or too unstructured, or overwhelming.  Or perhaps the child is tired, comes in too early, or his day at school is too long.  Talk to Mom and Dad to see if they can shorten his hours for a while. Perhaps Mom can drop off later than Dad, and Dad can pick up earlier than Mom!

In any case.  It IS our responsibility as Childcare Providers to make it work for all involved: the biter, the biter’s Parents, the one bitten and his Parents, for YOU the teacher and for all the other children in the classroom!  Ask for help!  Fresh eyes are always helpful!  As Caregivers, we must be there for all the children and families, not just the easy ones.

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