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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices


How to Control Biting
in a daycare or preschool setting


Biting happens in almost every daycare center and home that cares for young children. To be successful child care providers, we must:

  • recognize children's reasons for biting,
  • react appropriately, and
  • take the proper measures to prevent further incidents.

If biting is a frequent and recurring problem, working with parents is also essential.

WHY DO YOUNG CHILDREN BITE?

Biting is a natural part of children's development!

  • Infants and toddlers put everything in their mouths. It feels good to bite and chew while you're teething.
  • Toddlers and young preschoolers don't have the verbal skills to fully express themselves.
  • Biting brings about a quick and dramatic response.
  • Children experience many emotions (positive and negative) that are difficult for them to express and, at times, control. These emotions can be caused by numerous things: over excitement, frustration, fatigue, fear of being separated from people they love, etc.

HOW CAN I PREVENT BITING?

A good program that meets the needs of children and has a lot of equipment, is key to minimizing biting!

  • Look around your home or center. Is there enough space for children to move around without bumping into each other?
  • Are there enough toys for each child to have several to choose from at any one time?
  • Do you have enough activities planned to keep the children involved and interested?
  • A conflict over a toy or personal space could be enough to cause a child to bite.

Know the temperaments of the children you care for. Children may be more likely to bite if:

  • They are more aggressive and physical, or
  • They have difficulty expressing their feelings in words.

Look for patterns in a frequent biter.

  • Are there particular times of the day in which the biter has difficulty? Be there ahead of those times.
  • Does the biter focus on one child? You may want to keep him/her separated as much as possible.
  • Do toys seem to be the cause of many biting incidences? You may need more (or duplicate) toys so every child has several to choose from at any one time.

Encourage the use of words to express feelings and emotions.

  • Help children understand that words can be used to express feelings.
  • You may need to teach the children words that are appropriate.
  • Children who can verbally express themselves, will be less likely to lash out physically.

Recognize good behavior when it happens.

  • Most children look for attention. If they get it during positive behaviors, they will be more likely to continue those behaviors.

HOW SHOULD I REACT?

Remember, biters are usually looking for help and/or attention. Expect that biting may occur at some time with every infant or toddler. Your task is to carefully and thoughtfully handle the situation, and move on, so as not to reward the child with your attention.

  • STOP the action. Say, "NO!"
  • Quickly assess the situation to determine the cause of the biting. Is the infant hungry or teething? Do I have something appropriate for the infant to chew on?
  • Attend to the victim. Wash area with soap and water, apply cold compress if swollen, comfort the child.
  • Talk to the biter. Tell the biter, "Biting hurts! Teeth are not for biting children. Teeth are for eating food." If you think he bit for emotional reasons, you can say, "It's O.K. to be upset (mad, frustrated, excited, etc.), it's NOT O.K. to bite." Tell the child what he can do next time he experiences this emotion. (i.e. You can say 'My toy!!', You can call out my name and I will come help you, etc.)
  • If it is an older child, you can ask her what a better solution might have been.
  • Redirect the child to another area. This might mean feeding the child, putting her down for a nap, or involving her in another toy or activity. Stay with that child until she becomes involved in the new activity.
  • Finish the interaction on a positive note. Reassure the biter that he/she is still important to you and that you still care about him.

HOW SHOULD I INFORM THE PARENTS?

Let the parents know that biting is a normal part of children's development. Inform them of your policy before any incidents occur.

Biter's parents

  • Inform parents that their child bit someone.
  • Stress the severity or mildness of the incident.
  • Assure parents that you have taken care of the situation, and further reprimands are not necessary.
  • If this is a recurring problem, work with the parents on a plan of action that will be reinforced in the home.

Victim's parents

  • Inform parents that their child was bitten.
  • Assure parents that you have taken care of the situation and that you are taking measures to prevent further incidents.
  • Explain to them what your plan of action is if they ask.

BUT WHAT IF I'VE TRIED IT ALL, AND NOTHING IS WORKING?

It is your job as a caregiver, to ensure the safety of all children in your care. If one child is jeopardizing the safety of others by frequently biting, action must be taken. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to fix the situation, no matter how patient you are, a child may just not be a good match with your program. After talking to the parents, the best thing for the child may be to move her to a new child care setting. As this can be very upsetting for the child and her parents, it is important to be helpful and compassionate. Remember, this should be your last resort, after exhausting all other possibilities.

See also:

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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