Biting in Childcare

It can be quite disturbing to be informed that your child has been the victim of biting in child care or that your child has been biting others. While the news can be confronting it is important to remember that while not all children will be “biters”, it is natural to expect that some toddlers in particular will bite. This is not necessarily an indication of there being something wrong but does need some vigilance and appropriate management.

Why Do Children Bite Others?

There are multiple reasons for a child biting. Young children are usually quite impulsive and have not yet developed an appropriate level of understanding of how their actions may affect others.  Biting for children is more likely to occur when the child is tired, frustrated, angry, jealous or it could be a result of teething. At times the bite is purely experimental in nature. Other triggers can involve boredom, feelings of insecurity and attention seeking.

How Can We Prevent Biting..

An effective biting policy in childcare revolves around vigilance and positive reinforcement. Disciplining children who bite can often be counterproductive.

Being vigilant and aware of situations where a child is most likely to bite can help to reduce the incidence of biting. However, as biting can occur in a matter of seconds, vigilance alone is not likely to completely eliminate biting and that’s where positive reinforcement combined with effective communication comes into play.

The childcare professionals response

The childcare professional realises that there are no quick fixes to biting in child care but they do employ a variety of risk mitigation to strategies to reduce the potential of child biting incidents. These strategies include:

  • Encouraging acceptable behaviours by commenting positively on when children relate to others in a positive way. Encouraging acceptable behaviours helps children to learn how to relate to others and reduces the potential for negative behaviour including biting.
  • If biting is becoming a problem, the childcare professional will try to intervene or distract by saying something like “No bite” in a firm, calm manner when it looks like the child is about to bite. Of course this strategy requires some vigilant but discreet shadowing of the child..
  • At times, strong stern language may be required to discourage biting behaviour. It is important in these instances  to convey a sense of disappointment about the unacceptable behaviour while remembering that punishment is more than likely not going to be helpful.
  • Maintain a good, daily routine that includes meals, play and naps.
  • Avoid taking action that may inadvertently reinforce biting activities. This could occur if the child is sent home after a biting incident.

How parents can assist

Dealing with toddler biting daycare issues requires a partnership approach between parents and childcare professionals.

Clear communication helps – so all relevant information should be transferred between parties. Are there known reasons for the child biting? Are there issues with tiredness and teething?

Every effort should be made to maintain a good consistent home routine where the child is ensured of getting a good night’s sleep. Tiredness is one of the key triggers for toddlers biting in childcare.

On a proactive level, it may be beneficial for the parent  to spend several days at the childcare centre so that they can be involved in the intervention process. Alternatively, volunteering help for several days, allowing staff to be freed up to watch the child can also help.

Perhaps the hardest thing for the parents of a child who becomes known as a biter is the response of other parents towards them and their child. There is nothing to be ashamed of and while the responses of other parents are to some degree understandable, it is best to ignore them as best you can and remain focused  on helping the child to stop biting.

If the problem persists for some reason, it may be worth exploring whether the childcare centre is the right fit for the child. Sometimes an atmosphere does not quite suit a child for some undefined reason that is not immediately clear. It does not mean that the childcare centre is bad, it just might not be the right fit.

Summing up

The key thing to remember is that biting in child care, although unpleasant falls within the realm of normal behaviour for children still learning how to behave appropriately. By working closely with childcare staff, and the child, the problem can be managed appropriately. Biting is not to be punished as such but rather discouraged while good behaviours are encouraged and reinforced.