Biting: Why it happens and what you can do about it

Nearly every parent will have experienced the unpleasant occurrence of biting at childcare or preschool. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly common occurrence in any childhood environment and can be distressing, upsetting and downright painful.

Toddlers lash out with biting for many reasons. For some, it is a way to express frustration in situations where they cannot yet find the words. For others, it’s their way of releasing stress in situations where they feel overwhelmed or powerless. Some even bite out of excitement. Let’s not forget that it feels good to bite when those teething gums are particularly tender, too.

Thankfully, most kids grow out of it or learn pretty quickly that it isn’t an acceptable thing to do. However, in the meantime, what can you do if biting chomps its way into your world?

Being the one bitten

It’s upsetting to see your child come home from care or school with bite marks. As a parent it’s natural to be angry. Try to remember though, that it is probably the result of a situation rather than the child or centre’s fault.

If a child is bitten, the carer should immediately clean the wound, apply ice and provide comfort to soothe the child. Knowing there is a child in the room who might bite, the carer should then spend more time on the floor with the children. It’s an opportunity to look for trigger points, such as arguing over a toy or being tired and allows situations to diffuse before another bite occurs.

Any incident should have an incident report. Ask the centre what happened and what they are doing to ensure that child doesn’t bite again.

Sometimes certain children target others. If your child has been bitten more than once you are within your rights to ask for the centre to separate the children or shadow them when together until the child changes the behaviour.

Being the biter

Being the parent of a biter is also hard news to take. Naturally, you worry about what this means behaviourally and socially for your child.

When it happens, the carers will focus on the biter only when the children are separated and the victim is soothed and calm. Carers should explain to the biter that biting is very painful and is not an acceptable thing to do.

Once your child comes home, try not to punish them for the behaviour, as the incident has already dealt with at childcare. Instead, talk to the childcare centre to find out what the situation was when the biting happened. Was your child hungry? Frustrated? Struggling with something? Talk to your child to see if they can suggest different ways to deal with the frustration.

Ask the centre to spend more one-on-one time with your child around those trigger points and change programs or environments if needs be. However, also be understanding if this is not something they are able to do.

Many biting incidents stem from frustration. Encourage the use of appropriate words. Help your child learn new words they can use to express themselves, rather than lashing out with biting.

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