Biting in a Preschool – Why do some children bite?

Common Reasons Why Children Bite

Communication- Children (especially under 3 years old) do not have the language necessary to control a situation or their attempts to communicate are not understood. Biting becomes a powerful way to control the situation and the environment. It is a quick way to get something they want like a toy.

Excitement and over-stimulation- When young children get excited, they can get and feel out of control. Biting is an impulsive way that they let those around them know they are excited.

Frustration- Too many challenges, too many demands, too little space, too many transitions and too many obstacles can lead to a child biting, especially when they can’t express this frustration using language.

Stress- Children can bite when they are in a stressful situation; their routine has changed or feels like they want more adult interaction.

Tips to Minimize Kids Biting

  • Let the child know in words and manners that biting is unacceptable.
  • Remove the biting child from the situation and focus caring attention on the victim. Around age 3, include the biter in the care of the victim- help hold the ice on the bite, get them a band-aid, etc.
  • Change the environment, routines or activities if necessary.
  • Work with the biting child on his frustrations and teach him short phrases to say when he is getting frustrated. (“No thank you! or Stop please!”)
  • Observe and closely shadow the biting child. See what seems to be triggering the action and help label emotions when you see it coming.
  • Separate/redirect the biting child from kids that seem to be getting bit consistently.
  • Read books to the whole group on biting and communicate that it hurts when you bite. Use positive language like gently touching and using words to express their emotions.

What can a parent do if their child begins to bite?

  • Remove significant stresses from the child at home and keep a consistent, easy schedule.
  • Read books on biting and emotions.
  • Help children start to understand what each emotion feels like and how to have positive reactions to those emotions.

What to do if your child is bitten?

  • Stay calm. Biting is very common and most likely the biter will grow out of it.
  • Talk with your child about empathy and understanding. Help them know that the biter is not a mean child but trying to communicate with them.
  • Give them words to use when they feel nervous or unsure of how to respond. Encourage them to get help from their teachers if they need it.

The good news is that all biting children grow out of it! Some children may need help and support from professionals and school staff but most kids will grow out of the phase as they learn how to express their feelings in a positive manner.

3 Keys to Self Control from Resources for Educators

How can you teach your little one to handle big emotions like anger, frustration and disappointment? Work on increasing his self control with these strategies to help him think before he acts.

1. Talk it out

Give your child words to use when he is upset. For example, if you can’t find your glasses you might say, “I feel so frustrated! Where did I last have them?” Then when he is aggravated, (say he misplaced his favorite book), encourage him to use similar words. (“I feel mad because I want my book. I was looking at it in the living room – maybe it’s there.”) He’ll learn to talk through his problems and be less likely to yell or whine.

2. Think ahead

Prepare for situations where self control comes in handy. You could say, “We’re going to your cousin’s house. Let’s think about what you can do if she’s playing with a toy you want.” He may ask to join her, or he could ask to play with another toy until she’s finished. Having a plan can help him avoid grabbing a toy or yelling at his cousin.

3. Calm down

When your child begins to get upset, help him find ways to keep his cool. For instance, he might take a deep breath, count to five, or draw a picture of how he is feeling. The distraction may be enough to settle him down. Once he’s used to these techniques he’ll be able to do them without a reminder from you.

Toilet Training

As adults, talking about our bathroom habits is generally regarded as sharing “ too much information”, but for very young children, developing self-control of these processes is a significant developmental event. At birth we have no sense of our own self as distinct from others and so no sense of being self-conscious. About the age of two, this changes: children begin to have a clear sense of themselves and from this, awareness in soiling oneself. Hence, developing self-control and learning to use the toilet typically becomes a big event in a child’s life. When mastered, the child feels “now I’m a big boy” or “now I’m a big girl”. As adult parents and care givers we want to find that subtle boundary between encouragement and increasing pressure. It is also important to have a co-ordinated effort and response between parents and child-care staff. The goal is to help our children to feel successful.

The first question parents and care givers need to determine is when is a child ready. Children are usually ready to begin toilet training sometime after the age of 2 years (and usually before the age of 4) at a point in development when they have become very steady on their feet and have good language skills. Some signs of readiness are: (1) able to follow simple directions, (2) be interested in the toilet, (3) stay dry for at least 2 hours at a time during the day, (4) seem uncomfortable with soiled or wet diapers and (5) are willing to tell parents or care givers that they have a wet or soiled diaper. If a child has most of these skills, it may be time to begin. If a child does not show most of these readiness skills, wait for a month or two and observe until you see these signs, and if a child has a negative reaction to the toilet, stop and wait for a time when they seem interested and positive. Starting this process before a child is ready can actually delay the progress and cause a child to be resistant. It should not be a source of conflict nor discipline, and it is not advisable to start toilet training at any age if a child is experiencing any other life change such as a move or the arrival of a new sibling.

Parents can make the process easier for their children when they are in a child-care setting. Begin with clothing: pull-ups are preferred because pull-ups are more sanitary, and accidents will be contained in the pull up. Parents should be sure to dress their child in clothing that is easy to remove. It’s helpful to avoid belts or overalls at this time as they are more difficult for a child to manage. In a child- care setting, children are taken to the bathroom on a regular schedule and this actually helps children to be successful in their efforts to develop self-control. Parents should follow a schedule at home too. Taking a child to the bathroom every two hours is a good way to begin. Some families like to use a potty chair but this is not practical or sanitary at school. A better choice, which is consistent with our centers’ practice, is to use a child-size seat that fits over the toilet and a steady step stool. Parents and providers should make the training experience positive, natural and non-threatening. And, as in all learning experiences, mistakes happen and progress is not always consistent.

Children also need to be taught to wipe themselves, to flush the toilet and to wash their hands after using the bathroom. In the child-care setting, toilet training is typically a shared peer experience which helps children to be more interested and increases their desire to learn this new skill.

As children become aware that they need to use the bathroom and as they have regular bowel movements in the toilet, and can verbalize this, it is time to change to regular underwear. A child may enjoy shopping and picking out some new underwear. Wearing batman or princess underwear can be very motivating. If a child is still having accidents more than once a day, you can cover the underwear with plastic pants which may help eliminate so much laundry.

Obviously, it is very much in our own interest as adults to be relieved of the responsibility of toileting our kids. We love them dearly but life is just a bit easier when they are toilet- trained. Still, we need to remember, that for young children, this is a learning experience and if we are patient and caring, they will respond by doing the best they can.
If a child is not toilet trained by the age of four, parents should talk to their pediatrician and the child should have a complete medical evaluation. Remember too, that a healthy, normal child may occasionally have accidents, especially at night. Limiting fluid intake after dinner, may help.

On Tolerance

Gender and race are two sensitive topics that often cause unease in parents of young children. What do you say? How much information is too much? At what age? I got a double dose from my ever-curious five-year old grandson who commented on his friend’s penis. This led to a conversation on my part about privacy, staring and not commenting. “You know”, I said, “all penises pretty much look the same.” “Oh no,” he corrected me, “some are pink and some are brown.” I conceded the point.

Clearly, the perspective of our children, especially when they are young and innocent, is different from our own and, no, we should not ignore what they say but neither should we make too much of it. As parents, we certainly have a desire to ensure that our kids grow up with attitudes that we think are important, and when it comes to sex and ethnicity, young children will quite innocently do and say things that we don’t consider appropriate. Because children will come up with the most unexpected thoughts at the most unexpected moments, it is impossible to have a standard set of “formula” responses. However, here are some basic ideas I try to keep in mind.

Classification

One of the very first concepts that develops in the human mind is classification. This kind of mental activity grows with increased complexity. This block is red, but this one is blue. This puzzle piece is square and it fits in the square hole. And then, this person is a girl but this one is a boy. This one has curly hair and this one has straight hair.

At some point, children ask not only about what is and what is not, but also “why?”. Sometimes you may have a discussion of endless “whys?” where one explanation leads to yet another question. Healthy, curious children also seek their own answers. If my hair is curly, what does your straight hair feel like? Can I touch it? If my skin is light and yours is dark, does the dark rub off?

Children are naturally curious and if encouraged, they absolutely delight in learning and discovering the new and unfamiliar. My husband and I once took a trip to Tanzania in Africa. We were taken on a tour of a small village and as we walked down the main, dirt road of the town, young children came up to look at us. We are white and they, obviously, were not, and for them we were a curious sight. Some took my hand but they also reached up to touch my husband’s face. They wanted to touch his beard. African men rarely have beards and for them this was very odd. My husband didn’t mind at all but vaguely the kids knew this was not exactly appropriate, but their curiosity got the better of them. And then, maybe out of some mild embarrassment, they all laughed about it. Curiosity is a good thing.

Socialization

A second aspect of cognitive development is socialization. Until about the age of two years, children have very little awareness of the needs of others. They pretty well play alone. Then they begin to play “in parallel” with others. They enjoy the company of other children, but the social skills involved in coordinating and sharing are rudimentary. Gradually these skills develop and being part of a group becomes important. If there are more than three or four children around, the question sometimes becomes “what group?”

Again, we classify, we distinguish. We choose this and not that. Sometimes, children will classify and choose based on obvious differences such as race or gender. Our response as adults should be informed, and our initial response should not be an admonition but rather the question “why?”. Young children, to the age of three or four, understand differences among people quite literally and neutrally. Some body parts are pink and some are brown; it’s just that simple. And maybe the choice of whom you play with or sit with is nothing more than choosing a group that’s like you. Choices can also be fluid and random, so unless there is a pattern, it may be wise to not let this become an issue. Soon enough, young children grow and become aware.

On the other hand, if a child’s answer reflects a value judgment about others based on race or gender, then that is the beginning of racist or sexist attitudes, and an appropriate adult response is important. Sometimes a simple answer about fairness, equality, and consideration of the feelings of others will suffice, but it isn’t always so easy. We all know our kids are watching, and watching all the time. We teach them by example, more than by our words. So of course, if they see that your family, neighbors and friends are the same race as you, they will infer a conclusion from that and about what it means. However, by addressing the issues in a forthright manner, you have a better chance of leading them to conclusions that are consistent with what you believe.

There are no pat answers, but having an appropriate answer is an important teaching moment. Do not let your own unease get in the way, but if you remember that children develop gradually and begin quite innocently, you will probably find the right words. Just don’t use too many of them.