“You’re not hurting me, so you can let go,” I said to the child. He refused to remove his teeth from my hand. If he bit a little harder, he would break the skin on my hand and I’d bleed into his mouth. But I didn’t flinch or give any indication that he was hurting me. If I did, then he knew that biting would get his toy; and this behavior could not continue if he was ever going to learn the correct way to ask for something.
Biting can be an emotional situation: for the child who bites, the child who is bitten, parents involved and the teacher.
Biting may be a part of childhood, but you’d be a fool to think that children will simply “Grow out of it.” For example, if the child who had a vice grip on my hand saw that I was in pain and I relinquished to his demand, then he just learned something – biting gets him what he wants.
Of course, there is also something else. Some children simply learn by putting things in their mouth. Weird? Not really if you think about it. How would we know if we like new foods? You taste it. Well, some children learn best through tasting.
Now, they’re not tasting other kids to determine “Yum, you’re tasty. We’re going to be amigos.”
So, biting to learn and biting to fulfill demands. Two very situations, but both need resolutions.
Biting for Learning
Children like to feel things, touch things, and, for children who bite, taste things. Their need for tactile sensation in their mouth may not be satisfied by meals and tasty foods. This is when (and this may sound funny) the child needs a chew toy. Random, safe things to chew. This is normal and there are items you can purchase – such as necklaces – so children have something to chew.
Chew on this for awhile:
“…the mouth is the quickest route for providing sensory information to the brain.” (Ramming et al. 2006, p.21)
So, children who bite are simply trying to learn as quick as possible, and the mouth is the best route for that knowledge. It’s not fun, nor is it safe for other children, but this should give some perspective on 1) how an adult should react to this kind of child and 2) guide the adult on the remedies they should provide the child.
Give the child things that they can chew on. This way, you can distinguish “What You Can” and “What You Cannot” chew.
Good book to teach about not biting.
Biting to Fulfill Demands
Biting can be interpreted as an aggressive action by any child. However, this doesn’t mean one child is meaning to hurt the other child. The demands are not always, “I’m the boss over you” or “I’m going to get what I want.”
No. Sometimes a child bites because, while they’re playing, they don’t see another child scooting into their space, and the bite communicates, “You’re too close. Back away.”
Some children get excited and end up biting their friends. Their not trying to be aggressive, they’re just overwhelmed with happy emotion.
Tired children will also bite. I don’t bite when I’m tired, but I get cranky, quiet, and you’ll get one word conversations out of me. Well, some children will just bite. “Don’t talk to me. I’m tired.”
In these situations, conversations really help out. Let’s use my example on the playground and the conversation I had with my student, who we’ll call Angelo:
“Angelo, you need to let go of my hand,” I said.
Angelo grins. Bites harder.
“Angelo, I know you want your toy. But Daddy said we cannot take it out on the playground. I had to put it back in your cubby.”
“If you want your toy, biting isn’t going to work. Waiting til the end of the day, when we have Show and Tell, will get you the toy. Remember, you brought your toy for Show & Tell. We can wait til then.”
Angelo removes teeth.
“Thank you. You made a good choice. Now you’re showing me that you want your toy at the end of the day.”
Was I that calm during the situation? Yes, I really was. Was that the first time I had been bitten? No. I had been bitten before. During those first bites, no, I was not calm. But I learned about biting and learned what I can do. That knowledge prevented biting in the future; knowledge that was better than me jumping up and down in pain.
Which One is My Child: Learning or Demanding?
Observe the child. If you see that they bite when they’re angry, wanting a toy, wanting their way, or standing up to authority, then you have the demanding one. I would also correlate these behaviors with the time of day: does biting occur in the morning, before nap time, before dinner, before bedtime?
Don’t stop there though. Find out what the demand is. Asking your child questions after the biting incident has occurred will help you determine which need is being fulfilled. Their responses will confirm your suspicions.
Lastly, share with the child how other people and children feel when they are bitten: sadness, fear, fright, anxiety, scared, etc. I’m known for telling my students how it is, and I’ve told children who bite that other children will not play with you if you bite them, because it hurts. Sharing the emotions around biting will give children who bite some understanding, and it’s another tactic for the adult.
As for biting for learning, provide the child with chewing options, then distinguish what we can chew – food and chew necklace – and what we cannot chew – friends and teachers.