Take a Bite Out of . . . Biting: How to keep Playtime a bite-free zone!

Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Playtime Live |

This book by Elizabeth Verdick is a great way to teach kids not
to bite. Playtime has copies available in the office!

Nearly every Playtime volunteer has seen it happen: one minute, everything is going along swimming in the playroom. Then, seeming out of nowhere, a toddler has sunk her teeth into, well, another toddler.  Biting is actually very common in toddlers, but it is still a behavior we would prefer not to see at Playtime!

Zero to Three has a great article on why toddlers bite, and what can be done to prevent biting.
Why do children bite?
As with any behavior, it is helpful to understand WHY kids bite. Remember, there is always a message behind a child’s behavior – they are trying to communicate something to you when they bite. Babies and toddlers have limited language skills, so they often rely on other methods to tell you their wants, needs, and feelings. Here are some of the messages children may be trying to send you by biting:
1) “I am so angry/scared/excited/frustrated right now.”
2) “I am overwhelmed by all the noise, colors, and other children in the Playroom.”
3) “I am bored. Play with me or give me something else to do!”
4) “I am a little scientist and I just want to know what will happen when I do this.”
5) “I am really, really tired.”
6) “I am teething!”
7) “My mouth is bored & needs something to do.”
Understanding why kids bite can help you to have patience when bites occur, and can also help prevent bites.
Preventing biting
Now that you know why kids bite, here are some ways to be proactive and stop the bite before it happens! Click here for more strategies.

  • Help verbal children practice naming their feelings, so they can grow their expressive vocabularies. E.g., Chris, I can see you are feeling angry.
  • If the playroom is particularly noisy or crowded, keep an eye for children who seem overstimulated or frazzled and bring them to a quieter space.
  • Trouble with sharing is a big reason for the angry & frustrated feelings that lead to biting, so help kids negotiate sharing toys. Perhaps set a timer, to mark how long a each child gets to play with a particular toy.
  • If a child seems to crave oral stimulation (puts toys in their mouth, sucks their thumb, etc), offer them a carrot stick or a cup of water.
  • Biting relieves the pain associated with teething. The average age of the onset of teething is 7 months, so if you know a baby is at that age, ask his parent to provide a teething toy.
  • Make sure there are plenty of appropriate book, toys, and activities for all ages in the playroom!
What to do when a bite happens
1) Stay calm. Even if you are angry and upset, stay calm! Remember, bites happen for a reason. Responding in an angry tone will increase the child’s fear and will model aggression for them. This can actually lead to an increase in biting, which is not the result we are looking for!

2) State the expectation. In a calm, firm voice say, “No biting. Biting hurts.”

3) Shift attention to the child who was bitten. Not only do we not want to negatively reinforce the biting by giving the child who bit attention, it is also important to treat the bite. Note: If the skin was broken, call the child’s parent immediately, as they will need to bring the child to the doctor.

4) Discuss the experience & play for success. If the child who bit is verbal, talk to them about ways they can use words next time, instead of biting. Give them specific words they can use in the situation.

When to be concerned about biting
Biting is very common behavior in babies and toddlers, but it usually stops by age 3 and a half. If an older child is biting, be sure to notify your site manager so that she can connect the child’s family with a developmental assessment from Early Stages.

Do you have other tips to help prevent biting? Share them with us!