Preschool biting is one of the most common discipline problems in early childhood classrooms -- it is also one of the most difficult behaviors for preschool teachers to tame. Understanding why it happens developmentally may help teachers to develop tactics to deal with biting situations.
Often, a lack of communication skills leads to biting incidents. Toddlers and young preschoolers often lack the vocabulary necessary to solve conflicts. When a child becomes frustrated, he may bite out of anger or just to be sure he is being paid attention to. Still common but a little less likely, biting is soothing to some children. Some toddlers and young preschoolers are still growing out of the oral-motor stage of development, where putting objects into their mouths, such as toys and fingers, is soothing. In these instances, the biting is not associated with anger or conflict of any kind. This type of biting is much harder for a teacher to catch before it happens because there is often no preceding argument or conflict. It is also not any less traumatic for the bitten child. This type of biting may be easier to solve, though. Often, giving the child something appropriate to chew on, such as a frozen teether, will help stop the biting.
When you identify a child in your class as having a tendency to bite, it is important that you observe this child's behaviors very carefully. If possible, you should spend at least one full day observing just this one child. Be sure to take very detailed notes. Some things you will want to specifically look for would be:
- How does this child handle conflict with other children?
- How does the child handle conflict with adults?
- What is the behavior immediately before the biting incident?
- What is the child's reaction after the biting incident?
Keep a chart of preschool biting incidents and note the time of day the incidents occur. Also, noting the activity level in the room and the activity the particular child was engaged in will be helpful to you. After observing and reading your anecdotal notes, the next step would be to shadow the child for at least one full day. Follow this child everywhere, and be sure to step in when a conflict arises. Since you have studied this child's behaviors, it will be easy for you to spot the trouble before it happens. Step in and help the child solve the conflict with words. If necessary, give the child the appropriate words to use. Encourage the child to repeat the words you use. Continue to do this until the child is able to use some of the words on his/her own. As the days go by and the child appears more confident with using words to solve conflicts, try observing again. Make note of the differences in the child's behavior during conflicts with others. It may be wise to continue to shadow the child, but in a less invasive way. Be sure to step in if you feel the child's behavior is leaning towards biting again. Continue to coach and provide the vocabulary necessary to help solve disagreements.
Touchpoints: Birth to Three by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.; 1992
Constructive Guidance and Discipline: Preschool and Primary by Marjorie V. Fields and Cindy Boesser; 2001
Children's book resources:
No Biting, Louise by Margie Palatini; 2007
Teeth are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick; 2003
No Biting! by Karen Katz; 2002