Why do some toddlers bite other children? How can child care providers prevent biting before it happens?

Child Care November 16, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Biting is common among very young children, particularly in group settings such as child care. It is very important for child care providers to understand why children bite so that they can help children find more appropriate ways to express themselves.

There are many reasons why young children bite. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Children may be trying to express their independence and feel a sense of personal control.
  • Babies' mouths are sore when teething; biting feels good.
  • Children are trying to approach or initiate interaction with another child.
  • Children are seeking attention.
  • Children are angry or frustrated.
  • Children are experimenting and want to know what will happen if they bite.
  • Children feel threatened.

How do you prevent biting from occurring? Child care providers need to know the children well, supervise them carefully, and anticipate problem situations before they occur. Here are some specific ways child care providers can prevent biting. Remember that no solution will work for all biters, because children bite for many different reasons.

  • Observe and shadow the biter. Make careful notes about the situations when biting occurs. Use that information to help figure out why biting may be happening.
  • Give children opportunities to express their independence and self-control by providing them plenty of choices, such as what to wear that day, what game to play, and what to eat for lunch.
  • Provide babies with objects to mouth such as teething toys.
  • Make sure children have plenty of opportunities to interact with one another.
  • Acknowledge children's positive interactions.
  • Give children lots of attention during the day; cuddle with them, play with them, and read to them.
  • Be aware of children's feelings; watch for signs of potential conflict and increasing frustration.
  • Provide children with activities and toys that offer a variety of sensory-motor experiences, such as water play, play dough, and finger painting.
  • Help children learn about cause and effect. Teach them that biting hurts.
  • Assure children that they are safe and that their possessions are safe.

For more information about handling biting in the child care setting, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care article on preventing repeated biting in child care programs.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.