Biting is common behaviour among toddlers and preschoolers who are still learning how to communicate their feelings and regulate their emotions. In many cases biting may be a way for them to express frustration, anger or excitement.
Biting may be common, but in some cases it can be problematic and become a major issue within an early education service. This is particularly the case with repeated biting or when children avoid a peer who is biting. We explore the considerations around biting within an early education setting and provide strategies for dealing with biting.
When and why children bite
Biting is a form of communication more commonly experienced in the 0-3 years age group. Experienced Early Childhood Teacher and CELA Facilitator Meg Anastasi explains that children of this age may not yet have the skills to handle or communicate their frustration. In this case, she says that children who bite may do so because it’s a fast and impactful way to get their message across.
“Biting often stems from frustrations and an inability to regulate and express themselves,” she says. “Some children may also be more sensory seeking with their mouth and prone to biting.”
Some other common reasons for biting include:
- Experimentation with cause and effect
- Feeling unwell
Whatever the reason behind the biting, and as confronting as it is, it’s important to remember that biting is developmentally appropriate.
Children have many communication strategies (not all appropriate) that they may employ to initiate or join interactions with peers. Educators' roles are to work intentionally to resolve and minimise these incidents including biting, including implementing strategies that consider both children (the biter and the victim.) It’s essential that children are supported to navigate these challenging times. An individual plan will facilitate this.
Note: Sometimes biting can be an indicator of an underlying issue that may require further investigation. It's important that educators report the incidents to families and carers—they may have some valuable information you are unaware of.
The impact of biting
Biting can have significant impacts within an early childhood setting—for the children involved, the educators and parents, and even for the learning environment.
For the child that is bitten, it can be quite a distressing and painful experience. They may feel scared, hurt or develop a fear of the child who bit them, leading to potential social and emotional consequences.
Biting incidents, if not managed well, can strain relationships between caregivers and educators. Parents of the bitten child may feel concerned about their child’s safety at the service. The parents of the child who bites may also feel embarrassed or anxious about their child’s biting.
Within the learning environment, biting can cause disruptions to activities and challenge the overall classroom management.
Strategies to address biting
Addressing biting in an early childhood setting requires a multifaceted approach utilising a range of different strategies.
For young children who are biting and also mouthing a lot of toys, Meg suggests providing oral sensory alternatives, such as silicone necklaces and teethers. She says this, “caters to the stimulation part of what they’re seeking and also gives them something to bite if they’re feeling frustrated.”
Educators must review supervision plans to ensure effective supervision strategies are in place. Clearly communicate the expectations and procedures with all staff, children and families. Visuals and social stories may be effective in supporting communications to children.
Develop a plan for the child in consultation with families and ensure all staff have a clear understanding of the expectations and the importance of consistency.
As the EYLF V2.0 states: “Educators who are attuned to children’s thoughts and feelings, support their learning, development and wellbeing.
Other strategies to address biting include:
- Role playing and intentional activities to teach empathy and discourage biting.
- Addressing over or under stimulation with appropriate activities and quiet time.
- Working with children to understand what they’re trying to communicate.
- Speaking with parents/carers and working together to address the biting.
- Exploring a neurodivergent diagnosis, particularly in the case of older children who are biting.
- Biting policies and communication
In addition to strategies to address biting, services can also include biting in their policies.
“Biting is common,” explains Meg. “By having a policy around mitigating and responding to biting, you know exactly what to do when it happens. Often biting would sit within a behaviour guidance policy. But this is actually broader than just the approach to the biting itself. Your inclusion policy may also come into play if a child is being excluded because of biting behaviour. Build strong nurturing relationships with all children. Become their champion.”
As important as policies are, Meg also recommends clear communication with parents about biting.
“You can use your newsletter or parent handbook to reframe biting as a behaviour that’s quite normal in children of a certain age,” she says. “Lay the groundwork so that parents know that biting can happen by explaining behaviour and regulation in infants and toddlers. Then when a biting incident does occur, it may not be as much of a shock to the parents.”
Meg also urges educators to be advocates for the child and their family, aiming to prevent any compounding effects of negative experiences.
- Biting is quite common in children aged three and under.
- Older children may also bite and this can be a sign of language delay, sensory seeking, challenges with regulating emotions or additional needs.
- Biting can have significant impacts on early childhood services and requires a proactive approach to mitigate these impacts.
- Strategies to address biting include shadowing, providing oral sensory alternatives, role playing and addressing over/under stimulation.
- Addressing biting in policies can help to mitigate incidents and allow the service to respond appropriately.
- Biting can be a shock to parents but you can help to address this through regular communication with parents about biting.