Biting in Toddler Communities
Toddlers rapidly undergo a variety of normal developmental phases – physical and psychological. Typically, toddlers bite for a variety of reasons. Teething and slow emergence of language are the primary reasons why some toddlers bite often. Biting by toddlers does not reflect resentment towards others. Toddlers live in the moment and do not harbor feelings of ill-will towards their classmates or teachers. Their inability to express themselves in verbal language causes them to respond by biting. Toddlers typically bite when they feel unwell such as with a low grade fever, pressure or pain from ear infections and especially when they are teething – their mouth hurts all the time which causes them stress. Sometimes they bite when they are angry or frustrated – such as when a friend has something they want or if a friend pushed them or sat down too close to their personal body space. At other times they bite when they are overstimulated or excited. Toddlers can also bite to experiment with cause and effect. Primarily toddlers bite to express themselves since they have not developed the cognitive ability to convert their feelings into words. They will readily use their body to communicate since they do not have or cannot access their small supply of expressive language quickly. They are just learning what is right and wrong; what is acceptable and what is not – something adults can do automatically.
Although a normal developmental phase in toddlers, biting cases are taken very seriously at LMS. As soon as we find out an incident has happened we always try to investigate the cause of such behavior and try to put systems in place to protect children from being bitten. The parents of the child who bit are informed immediately so they can help us remedy the situation and monitor their child at home with positive behavior approaches and appropriate language to stop biting. The parents of the child are also
very distraught and do not wish their child to hurt anyone – especially by biting. To this end, please also refer to the Toddler Biting Policy explicitly created to explain to parents about toddler biting.
We are always concerned when one toddler bites another. Our teachers communicate about any biting incident to both sets of parents however; we cannot give out specific names of the child/children. Our teachers are extra vigilant if there is a toddler biting occurrence and always share their concerns. Biting, like other unwanted behaviors, requires repeated redirection and a careful, watchful eye on the child. As toddlers mature and with patience and positive redirection, they stop biting.
Biting however is very distressing to the child who is bitten as well as the teachers. They of course, do not want any child hurt for any reason. At LMS, we coach the teachers to keep the child who is biting very close to them. We want an adult close by with that child to hopefully intervene and redirect behavior before the next chance to bite occurs. Also, by carefully observing and documenting when and how the child bites, helps us notice if there is a pattern to the biting.
Our teachers use positive language and visual cues to help children learn how to verbalize their feelings. We use phrases the toddlers understand easily (without adult inferences) that redirect and stop the unwanted behavior such as “biting hurts”, “stop”, and “gentle touches” etc.
We realize this is a very difficult time for the child who is bitten and that the parents are understandably concerned. Our teachers keep the child who is inclined on biting very close to them and ensure that they are holding chew toys such as a teether for quick use. Our teachers also try to create some distance between the children to prevent another biting incident to recur. Toddlers need time to mature as they work through this developmental phase. Although natural, we sympathize with the child who is bitten a lot more and offer lots of special TLC to get the message across to the child who bit that biting hurts our friends and is NOT okay.
Our teachers try their level best to closely supervise the child prone to biting; however, they cannot predict when a biting incident will occur, since toddlers are so quick and the biting is not always instigated. Biting in toddler communities sometimes happens frequently and then completely stops as children mature. Toddlers communicate with their bodies since their verbal skills are barely emerging. Toddlers are not intentional on who or how they hurt. They do know that when they move their bodies (via pushing, pulling hair, grabbing, hitting etc.) they are able to communicate their wants and needs.
Our teachers try their utmost to keep the children busy throughout the day and steer them towards fun activities to occupy them. They provide lots of verbal and sign language to teach what acceptable behavior is and what is not and redirect children as necessary. We have a variety of teethers for the toddlers in the hope that something new to chew on will gain the attention of the child who exhibits this oral need.
We also request parents to ensure that we have Tylenol/Advil on hand (with signed authorizations) to ease the discomfort caused by teething. Some toddlers may have a low pain threshold or several teeth emerging at the same time and are quite uncomfortable – chewing may help relieve the pain and stress.
As the children mature, are able to add some more words in their vocabulary to communicate wants and needs, and as the teeth grow in and physical discomfort dissipates, we typically see biting incidents fade away.
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