The issue of Biting

gloria By gloria, 5th Jun 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Toddlers

Early childhood educators, parents, teachers, administrators, child caregivers, pediatricians and mental health personnel are very concerned about what is considered a national dilemma. Young children who bite are being suspended and expelled from the very educational environments that promise to protect, support and nourish them. Many attribute the alarming punishment for what some call a natural young learning experience to the high numbers of incarcerated inmates. Really?

Why Young Children Bite?

Why do young children bite?
Some researchers in the fields of early childhood education and child psychology suggest that biting could be classified as one of the developmental stages of young children. It should also be noted that it appears that there is no long-lasting significance when it occurs. However, there may be different viewpoints on this. It is further believed that once a child turns three and continues to bite on a regular basis, that there may be some more underlying behavioral challenges. Biting is considered a developmental stage that young children go through and should not be blamed in a negative way when they does this.

We should note here that there is widespread disagreement among experts and practitioners in the field of early childhood in regards to issues affecting young children and biting. More confusion leaps forward when there is a closer look at infants.

Infants come into the world with a innate sucking capacity, unless born with some special need or disability.
Some experts in child study suggest that biting is a form of exploration. How? Infants use their mouths to explore because it is one of the most developed parts of their bodies. The younger the child, the more mouth may be used to survive and communicate needs.
Due to inexperience and lack of being able to make a connection to the correlation of pain and biting, infants seem to bite more for exploration. Infants also are impulsive and lack self-control. Therefore some infants bite because there is something to bite within range. Still others may bite if they become overly excited or over stimulated. Strangely enough, there is some evidence of a positive experience causing the over-stimulation, then the biting.

Why Is It That the Answers to Decreasing Biting are so limited?

While biting has been a long time issue in the field of early childhood education, in many programs it has been swept under the rug. Some of the reasons for sweeping it under the rug has been because of society's attitudes toward the families of biters as well as teachers and educators who seemingly allow young children to bite others. Those who are selected to be responsible educators and caregivers find themselves feeling inadequate about meeting the individual needs of all students. Many feel that biters bring disaster to their otherwise positive environments. There is a perception by some that there is something seriously wrong with the child who bites on a continuous basis. Parents fear that their young child may be mistreated because of this type of behavior. Parents often have many sleepless nights worrying about what they could do to stop or decrease their child's biting habits. Parents as well as educators find themselves sometimes becoming easily frustrated because their communication with the child to fall upon "deafened" ears.

Infants- A Far Cry from Biting for Power- What About Attention?

Whose Caring for the Infants? As an early childhood educator, I am still stunned that in the United States, we find so many early childhood programs that are not differentiating between punishment for infants, toddlers or preschoolers. Infants who are just beginning to explore their environments and finding out what the world is like are being suspended and expelled. However, they are merely crying out physically to have their basic needs met. It is a great challenge since they have not mastered language development and communication skills that would allow them to i express themselves. So when I found out that infants as young as 8 or 9 months old were being suspended/expelled, I was shocked. The parents were called and asked not bring the child back to these particular learning environments. Puzzled parents don't always know the questions to ask, so then they move on and try to find a different environment that may accept their young child.

The Exploration Theory

Many child psychologists and early childhood educators feel strongly that infant biting is merely teething or "teeth exploration." But those bite marks on the bitten child are not well received as exploration or an attempt at finding out how teeth work. The challenge becomes are educators able to meet the needs of a child who seeks biting objects?

Believe it or Not?

Believe it or not? Whether you believe some of the realities of biting or not, please note:

1) Infants are considered to be young, impulsive, eager to explore and find out what is available to bite on.
2) Babies may bite when they are excited or overstimulated?
3) Infants desire to smell and touch objects?
4) Infants are eager to find out about cause and effect? What happens when I do this- with the mouth?

Why Has Biting Become A National Dilemma in the United States?

The cause and effect theory is part of why there is a national dilemma. Some feel very strongly that infants and toddlers really do know what they are doing when they bite others. Therefore they believe that they should be punished and/or limited in their opportunities to interact with other children in the environment. I was totally shocked that many of the early childhood programs that do suspend and expel infants, toddlers and very young children do have a written or verbal policy. These policies may include the number of times a child is involved in incidences of biting.Then the policy is put in effect with just cause to ask the parents not to bring them back to that setting.

What About the Child Who is Bitten?

There are also differences of opinions about who should be dealt with first. Some feel that the biter needs to be isolated immediately from the child who was bitten. Others feel that there should be some time for the biter to process empathy for others. Some feel that the child who is bitten should be taken care of immediately, especially to determine whether the child needs first aid or other assistance. Others feel that both children should be treated with dignity and respect. Others feel that this is a very important processing time for the biter as well as the child who is bitten. There are those who feel that it is critical to keep the involved children away from others and give them time to think about what just happened.

Whose to Blame for Young Children Who Bite?

The thought about who should bear the blame when a child has bitten another is a major question. Society continues to express concerns that a child who bites has some deep underlying psychological, social and/or mental health needs. If indeed a child starts biting, many parents say they just don't know where they got that from or how they learned it. What can they do to stop it? Then they begin to ponder all of theories and practices that some publicly share about stopping and decreasing biting

Inappropriate Practices Used At Alarming Rates

When I learned of the shocking things that were being placed on infants' tongues and in their mouths in their learning environments it was frightening. There is no known evidence that placing inappropriate items in a child's mouth will decrease biting. Items such as a sour lemon and/or lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, tartar sauce, sour cream, tabasco or hot sauce, fresh, crushed red pepper, black pepper and soap are being used by some with the intent to stop children from biting. Most states have laws to protect children from abuse and mistreatment. Such laws state that food should not be used as a form of punishment by increasing amounts, inappropriate use of or withholding food during meal times.

Have You Ever Heard of Early Childhood Suspensions and Expulsions?

Growing up in the United States, a land that is considered free, most of us had never heard of suspensions and expulsions of very young children. There are certain elementary, middle and high school and minority students who are also suspended and expelled at alarming rates. Therefore this concern at such a young age is disturbing for most educators. Many wonder about the real impact on the child's social and emotional stability. With such a major negative experience at a very young age, some wonder does this contribute to juvenile delinquency or children's quest for civil or parental disobedience? Should we become supporters who fight to save our children? Should we have round table discussions to find some suitable solutions to this major issue?

What Should Be Done? Where Are the Answers?

The answers are among those who understand child development, developmental stages in infant- toddler care, language and communication skills and behavioral challenges. Further study should be done on the long and short-term effects of biting on of young children. Are these early encounters such that they may negatively impact a child's future? We must study all of the different reasons why children are biting. We also need to find different ways of intervening and finding ways to stop and decrease biting. We need to find approaches that work so that parents may begin using some of the most effective strategies with children very early in their lives.

Why Are there So Many Differing Opinions on Biting?

There are so many differing opinions because the issue has not been dealt with properly in the past. Still today, there are unanswered questions. There still remains a thought of who is going to make the decision about what is appropriate or inappropriate?
Who has a solution that works for most young children? Are there any recorded approaches that work and how they have decreased or stopped biting? Are there any studies to determine if biters seem to respond more effectively to certain people.?

Are There Any Long Term Effects of Biting?

Because early experiences in early childhood determine somewhat the future of children. Many early childhood educators are beginning to look closer at children who bite, why they bite and what are the future implications of their behaviors. Others say there should also be studies done on the child who is bitten. Do we have some evidence showing that certain children or their behavior types are prime targets to be bitten by children? Is it really true that young children have the skills to determine children who may be fearful of them, thus the beginning of "baby-bullying?"

How Can You Help?

It is important that we should have soft, wet cloths, teething rings, other teething and chewable toys and materials. It is also recommended that vocabulary and language development skills of these children be enhanced. This can also be done by communication and sharing of books like Teeth Are Not for Biting or Hands Are Not for Hitting. Emphasis should be placed on what these body parts are meant to do and how they can contribute successfully to the child's life?

1) Each one of us should vow to help find ways to resolve this critical and national dilemma in the United States.
2) We should look closer at what families and educators are doing and can do to decrease and stop biting among and by young children.
3) We need to study closer some of the intervention strategies that work.
4) We also need to take a closer look at the social and emotional needs of young children and the impact of this in their overall response to others!
This issue can not be ignored. It will not go away or be wished away. We all must help! Are you willing?


Biter, Bites, Bitten, Communication, Interventions, Language Development, Punishment Punishing Children, Sharing

Meet the author

author avatar gloria
Early childhood Educator, Associate Professor, Curriculum and Instruction. Specializes in child psychology, educational and cultural diversity.

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author avatar peachpurple
1st Dec 2012 (#)

very informative article. My toddler bite his toothbrush every time he brushes his teeth. He gnaw it, seems enjoying it.

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