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Biting ....ouch

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Started by Justine Mason 10 Mar 2011 12:07pm () Replies (3)

Hi, today I had a very interesting conversation with a teacher who has a dedicated team of experienced teachers in a centre with children under 3 years and who are handling a stressful situation of children who are biting.  We discussed various strategies - such as placing a child who bites in a space away from immediate close contact with others - they have 5 children who bite at the centre at the same time:  which is a great challenge.  The teacher agreed that it is helpful to have another staff member employed at this difficult time. Nevertheless, an adult may be sitting next to a child who bites, and find that the child is so quick, it hasn't been preventable.

I looked up my 'good book' (Janet Gonzalez-Mena, Infants, Toddlers & Caregivers, 2009) to see what words of wisdom were there.  "Toddlers need to feel that there are limits ... think of limits - rules of behaviour - as invisible fences or boundaries.  Because they can't see these boundaries, children need to test in order to discover them."  p. 243.  What I like is that she says that no single answer covers all behaviours in all situations with all children.  We know that, don't we!!!

Janet talks about asking 'why is this child biting? what is behind the behaviour?  Biting can be done as use of power, out of curiosity, anger, effort to gain attention.  I also believe it is often the result of frustration - where a bite will convey a message more urgently than attempting to speak about the feeling i.e. lunge and bite rather than saying will you move out of my way!!

Teaching children to redirect their energy into more positive ways of expressing feelings, and examining the environment in terms of it contributing to the behaviour etc. is useful too.  As is giving the message it's OK to bite something like teething rings, iceblocks, apples, rusks etc., but "I can't let you bite Craig".

I would be most interested in hearing about  experiences in similar situations and what has been useful to consider here.  Could we dialogue about this issue? 

Jean Rockel

Auckland University


  • Justine Mason (View all users posts) 21 Mar 2011 12:12pm ()

    Hi there Jean, thanks for your post. It got me thinking too and I agree with Janet Gonzalez-Mena's words that no one answer covers all behaviors in all situations for all children. Over my years in early childhood that is one thing I have learned that has stood me in good stead for alot of life's experiences.

    It sounds like the centre has done some thinking about this situation and have employed another staff member to support the teacher. This is a great start.

    Like you said asking "why is this child biting?" is the place where I would start. The next question I would be asking myself is "how well do I know this child?". When teachers know children well they are better positioned to support them as they navigate and make sense of the world around them.

    I discovered this fact sheet that I thought could be of use to people. It was developed in 2008 by the Australian National Childcare Accreditation Council Inc and is written by Ann Stonehouse.

    It is written as a fact sheet for parents but provides some good information for teachers/educators to consider.


  • Ann Hatherly (View all users posts) 02 Apr 2011 4:00am ()

    Hi Justine

    Thanks for the Anne Stonehouse 'fact sheet' on biting - an excellent resource which I will now share with teachers. While it is important and necessary to focus on why children bite and what to do about it, I think we must also consider how biting behaviours impact long term on teachers' expectations of particular children. Negative expectations brought about by the difficulties of dealing with biters can remain with the adults long after the biting phase has passed. The danger here is that they then become self - fulfilling prophecies. In other words, the child we see becomes the child we teach.


    This suggests to me that addressing the management of biting without some consideration to the longer term impact on teachers' expectations is somewhat short-sighted. What do others think?

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