Why, where, and when do young children bite?
Let's talk a little bit about why infants and toddlers bite. We all know that it is a normal reaction for children who are very oral as they are exploring everything with their senses. They eat their books and they put everything in their mouth. That is how they explore and that is how they run their schemas on things. They are going through teething. They have pretty much no impulse control and they have very strong emotions, but they don't know what that is about. They do not have words for those feelings and they do not know what is coming over them or how long it will last. Of course, infants and toddlers may fall into biting. The question is why do some continue on with biting and make it their go-to reaction?
Here is another question for you. Where and when do two-year-olds bite? In your experience, where, meaning what part of the program (indoors, outdoors, what part of the room) do two-year-olds bite? What time of day do you find most two-year-olds are having biting incidences? Take a moment and think about this. Most often, what I see in my work are transition times. Transition times are tricky because they make children uncomfortable. Some children kind of go with the flow and do not mind the transition, they take it in stride. For others, it is a problem for them and it makes them feel vulnerable.
Another place two-year-olds often bite is during free play indoors. Class schedules often have an hour of free play for two-year-olds inside the classroom. That is a good idea, they need that. But that is also a time where children are on their own making decisions about what to do next, who to do it with, or how to handle little mini conflict over the doll, ball, or car. That is when the interactions between children are a little bit more fluid.
Circle time is not fluid. It is more structured as a teacher-directed time. However, sometimes circle time promotes biting because it depends on how children are sitting. How close are they to each other? What is the circle time like? Are teachers using tiny little books where children lose interest? If so, do they turn and become more bothered by what is going on around them? Circle times can be a biting time.
Sometimes it is only outdoors that children bite. You have to look at what is going on outside. Is there enough for them to do? Are there places on the playground that promote biting? Slides, for example, are often key places where at the top of the slide one child might bite another on the shoulder because somebody is not going down fast enough and somebody is coming up right behind them. There is a misinterpretation about who needs to go down as quickly as possible and who is next. It can elevate into an emotional situation very quickly. Sometimes if the play yard is too big, it is hard for teachers to cover the zones safely and get there in time to prevent biting.
Studies show late morning is a high biting time because children are hungry and they are getting tired. Teachers may be getting the lunches set out, changing diapers, and setting cots down so there might not be a teacher that is providing a focus for the children as they wash their hands and get ready. That can be problematic.
I often see a lot of biting in the late afternoon, between four and six. One reason for this is usually the lead teacher is on her way out the door during that period of time. She may be the one that has the best set of skills for managing challenging behavior and at some point, she will be gone. The biting child may still be there for a while with a new set of teachers or moved into another room to group together with others. This means a lot of transitions in the late afternoon. These children are seeing other children getting picked up, their parents are not there yet, and it can promote tension.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, You Can Become a Biting Solution Expert!, presented by Lisa Poelle, MA.