Dracula at the Day Care
Tim Graves, M.S.Ed.
Why do toddlers bite?
Since toddlers (approximately one to three year olds) have limited language and few of us can read minds, we can only make an educated guess as to why they bite. Some of the probable reasons that toddlers bite:
1. TEETHING. Cutting teeth hurts. Chewing on something relieves the pain. Toddlers are egocentric and cannot put themselves in the place of others. They do not know they are hurting another.
2. SENSORY EXPLORATION. Anyone who has spent much time with babies and toddlers knows that they put everything in their mouths. This includes other children and adults. Biting is sometimes a way of learning about another child.
3. CAUSE AND EFFECT. "If I bite Andrew, I hear a high pitched scream and my special adults come running to my side. I wonder if it will happen again." seems to be in the mind of some biting toddlers. Toddlers are learning to have an impact on their world and biting definitely has an impact.
4. MIMICRY. Modeling or copying the actions of others is an important and powerful way for toddlers to learn. Unfortunately sometimes the toddlers learn negative behaviors like biting. Any adult who has spent much time with a group of toddlers can testify to the fact that biting is more contagious than chicken pox.
5. SELF-ASSERTION. The accident report given the parent by a caregiver at the end of the day reads, "Child was bitten during a struggle over a toy." Toddlers have very limited language skills. Consequently, biting is a way to register a complaint.
6. FRUSTRATION, FATIGUE, STRESSES. Some children bite when they are tired or hungry or rushed or when Mom is out of town or when Dad worked late last night. Adults need to be aware of what is happening in the life of the biting child and take action to prevent other children from being physically hurt.
What do I do when toddlers bite?
Biting is an age-appropriate behavior for toddlers (approximately one to three year olds). Biting is especially likely among those toddlers in group care settings. Even so, biting is not an acceptable behavior and adults must help toddlers control their urge to bite other children. (Caregivers and teachers cannot promise that your child will never be bitten again. They wish they could.)
Biting inflicts pain and hurts peers (or adults). Biting must be dealt with quickly and firmly by adults.
1. The biting child should be stopped an told, "STOP, Billy! You may not bite Joey. Biting hurts Joey." The adult's tone of voice must be firm but should not simply be louder than normal. The tone of voice should be unique to incidents of biting thus commanding attention from the children when it is used.
2. At the same time that the adult speaks, the adult should act. Ideally, one adult steps in to help the victim while another stops the biting child. Where this is not possible, the biting child should usually be dealt with first. This is because discipline for toddlers is most effective when it occurs immediately after the unacceptable action. The biting child should be removed from the situation. Depending upon the reason for reasons for the biting, the separation may be in the form of redirection, "time-out", or simply giving the biting child the space he or she is expressing a need for.
3. ADULTS NEVER BITE CHILDREN because of the powerful influence of modeling on toddlers.
How can I prevent toddlers from biting?
Preventing biting before it happens is better than dealing with it after it occurs. Consequently, adults should carefully observe the moods and needs of toddlers. When a child is exhibiting low tolerance for frustration, or when a child has a history of biting, or when a child is teething, adults must pay especially closed attention to the potential-biting child. The adult must be visually aware of where the child is and who he or she is near at all times. The adult may need to stay physically close to the child. Additionally, biting can be discouraged through the encouragement of language. Words such a "mine" while tiresome to adults are very useful and important tools for toddlers. They allow the toddler to express wants without inflicting pain on peers.
Specifically, what can I do?
1. REMEMBER THAT BITING IS NORMAL NO MATTER HOW REPULSIVE IT IS TO YOU AS AN ADULT. From the toddler's perspective it can serve a similar purpose as an older child's shove or push.
2. MAKE IT CLEAR TO THE CHILD THAT BITING IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE. Save a special tone of voice just for biting. By doing so, children are more likely to listen to your voice.
3. OBSERVE, OBSERVE, AND OBSERVE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN YOUR CLASSROOM OR HOME. When is the child who has bitten before most likely to bite? Avoid tempting him or her to bite again.
4. SHADOW SEVERE, CONSISTENT "BITERS". Assign one adult in the classroom to be with two feet of the "biter" at all times until biting has ceased. This may take several days but the results will be well worth the effort if you get a biting epidemic under control.
5. MODEL FOR TODDLERS THE BEHAVIOR YOU EXPECT. NEVER EVER BITE A CHILD SO THAT "THEY WILL KNOW HOW IT FEELS." Toddlers who are bitten by adults learn that biting is acceptable if you are big enough and if no one is present to punish you.
6. IF YOU ARE A CAREGIVER, TALK TO PARENTS ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING. Parents deserve to know that your classroom is having a biting problem. They will want to know what steps you are taking to solve the problem. Remember, however, that it is your job to deal with the biting problem.
7. IF YOU ARE A PARENT, TALK TO CAREGIVERS ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING. Caregivers need to know what is happening with your child so that they can deal with problems. If your child is biting at home, letting caregivers know will help to prevent biting at school.
8. IF YOU ARE A CAREGIVER, KEEP THE NAME OR NAMES OF BITING CHILDREN TO YOURSELF. Parents are emotionally involved with their own children. Some parents have been known to denigrate the biting child if they know who it is. Sometimes this parental reaction is intentional; more often it is unintentional.
8. PROVIDE ACTIVITIES OR EQUIPMENT THAT RESPONDS TO THE REASON BITING IS OCCURRING. If Suzy is biting because she is teething, provide her with appealing teething rings. If Suzy is biting because her mother is out-of-town, provide her with extra nurturing and watch for potential problems. If Suzy is biting as a way of exerting herself, teach her words she can use instead.
ęCopyright, 1993 Timothy R. Graves. All Rights Reserved. Permission to reproduce for use with parents and families of young children is granted provided no financial gain is involved and this copyright notice is included.