Be Child Care Aware: Understanding Infants Toddlers May Eliminate Biting Behaviors

Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:29 PM

News You Can Use For July 2004  

Biting is fairly common in young children, but it can be frustrating and embarrassing for parents and caregivers.

LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe says the first thing parents and caregivers must understand is that infants and toddlers usually do not bite because they have a behavioral problem.

"Typically, the biting occurs because of a physical need they may be experiencing," Gioe explains, adding, "Understanding why a child bites is the first key to eliminating the behavior."

There are several reasons why a child may bite others, according to Gioe, who says the reasons can differ with children and with situations.

Some of the most common reasons the LSU AgCenter expert cites for children biting are:

–Young children may bite to explore with their sense of taste.

–Infants and toddlers usually explore toys by putting them in their mouths. They may not realize the difference between "mouthing" a toy and biting someone.

–Children also may bite because they are teething. Chewing on something can help relieve the discomfort of swelling gums.

–Young children enjoy imitating others. Older toddlers may bite because they see another toddler biting.

–Children may bite out of frustration. Stressful situations, such as a lack of routine or a move to a new home, may lead to biting.

–Young children may not be able to express themselves with words, so they may bite to express their feelings and relieve tension.

–Older toddlers may bite to get attention, even if the attention is negative.

–Children bite to gain control and independence over a certain situation. If a child is trying to take a toy away from another child, the child with the toy may bite in defense. The biter is then able to keep control of the play and the toy.

"As you can see, to prevent biting, parents and caregivers first must understand why the child is biting," Gioe stresses. "It is critical to identify the events preceding a biting incident, because that can provide insight into why it is happening."

Among the steps she says parents and caregivers can take to prevent biting are:

–Have two or more of each toy available to toddlers. Toddlers should not be expected to share.

–Offer teething children a frozen bagel, large cold carrots or a safe teething ring.

–Teach a frustrated child other ways to express his or her feelings, such as hammering nails or pounding play dough.

–Verbally interpret children’s words and expressions.

–Provide a stressed child with daily routines for eating and sleeping and an appropriate environment in which to play.

–Be firm, and let children know that biting hurts, but do not bite back. Biting back gives the child the idea that biting is okay.

–Comfort the victim of the biter first. This takes the attention away from the biting child who may be biting to seek attention

–Do not reward the biting in any way – by laughing or hugging. This may encourage the continuation of biting behaviors.

–Make changes to the classroom routine or schedule. If children are biting near lunch time, perhaps they are hungry and need to be fed earlier.

"Unfortunately, there is no ‘quick fix’ to alleviate biting in young infants and toddlers," Gioe says. "Consistency and patience are the keys to working through this behavioral issue."

The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.

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Contacts: Cheri Gioe at (225) 578-6701 or cgioe@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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