Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A.
Biting is a common behavior for children who are one year to two years old – particularly children in group care.
"Most parents express great concern about biting, whether their child is being bitten or is the one doing the biting," says LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe. "One thing is certain. In order to prevent biting, parents must first understand why children bite."
Gioe explains that most children explore their world through the use of their senses and that toddlers are no exception as they explore their world with their mouths.
"Toddlers use their mouths to find out about things, including cause and effect," she says, adding, "When biting occurs due to exploration, we call this experimentation."
Another of the more accepted reasons for biting is teething, according to Gioe.
"Infants and toddlers alike exhibit a natural response to relieve the pain from the sensation they feel when they are cutting teeth," she says. "This response is to apply pressure to the gums by biting on something.
"If you provide children with the appropriate items such as frozen bagels, teething rings and perhaps a pacifier, the behavior of biting others often will diminish or stop."
Some of the other reasons children may bite include frustrating situations such as having to wait to be fed, changed or rocked.
"At this time in their lives they lack the social and emotional skills needed to cope with their feelings," Gioe explains. "They also lack language skills to communicate their feelings."
Biting also can be a simple act of imitation, according to the expert, although she says those cases are rare.
"One of the most powerful ways children demonstrate that they have learned something is through imitation," Gioe says. "Many parents of toddlers fear that because their child is bitten, that he or she, too, will begin to bite.
"There are times when this fear will become a reality, but this is not common."
Toddlers also have a need to be independent and in control.
"Biting others is often an attention-getting behavior that helps to satisfy this need," Gioe says.
To prevent biting behaviors, the LSU AgCenter expert says there are interventions care providers and other adults can do before biting occurs:
–Talk with children about things they are interacting with and their behavior.
–Demonstrate patience and understanding even if you are frustrated.
–Verbally redirect children to alternative activities.
–Demonstrate alternative ways to interact, such as showing a child how to give "soft touches."
Supervise children carefully to prevent biting. By providing a low teacher/child ratio in a child-care environment, many biting behaviors may be alleviated.
–Ensure that there are ample, age-appropriate toys for the children. It also is recommended that there be duplicates of favored items.
–Provide foods that allow children to gum, chew and gnaw.
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.