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Teeth are Not for Biting

You may recognize that this post shares a title with a great board book from Elizabeth Verdick, but you may know that books alone can’t solve this frustrating developmental challenge.

Recently, I read an article by Tamara Lush with the Associated Press about a Florida toddler that was bitten more than a dozen times over multiple days in his child care program.  Any caring and reasonable adult would be bothered by this scenario and would be justifiably upset with the supervision and safety in the little boy’s classroom.  However, while the problem is clear, the solution needs just a little bit of work.

When young children bite, the best approaches are going to take into account the probable causes.  Unfortunately, teachers and parents can be inclined to believe that children bite because they’re angry and/or mean, and they may respond punitively without regard to other factors.  In reality, biters may be just as upset as their “victim” or be totally unaware of what they just did, because multiple causes and conditions have been identified as contributing factors to a biting episode.

Regardless of the situation, communication between the teacher and the families should remain open, honest, supportive and focused on solutions that work for all involved.  Blaming and/or limited communication should be avoided at all costs, because they are unproductive approaches to problem-solving.  Biting is a common developmental phase that can easily be handled most of the time, but additional support from community resources (pediatricians, therapists and early interventionists, among others) can be critical and should be considered if recommended developmentally-appropriate practices prove to be ineffective.

Professionals and families who want to better understand biting behaviors and be prepared to provide practical support and solutions will find some great ideas at the following resources: