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Spotlight on Biting


Tuesday 27 February 2018

From an adult perspective, biting is an anti-social behaviour. It is grossly inappropriate to negotiate a situation or express your frustrations, sensory overload or teethache woes by biting your peers. With a child who has only a few years of life experience, the behaviour of biting shouldn’t be seen through an adult lens. As adults we have the advantage of more experience and resources to regulate our emotions, to express ourselves in socially acceptable ways.

Biting is a behaviour that provokes highly-charged emotions. But I would argue that these emotions are adult-led. We should unpack the emotions that we, as adults, bring to what is (most commonly) an age-appropriate behaviour expressed by many children. Like all behaviours, we need to consider what is going on for each child, what is the trigger, and how we, as educators, can support the needs of all children experiencing different stages of self-regulation. Child development is complex, particularly when we consider the wide-ranging experiences and circumstances that children are born into. Development is layered and multifaceted and all children, like all adults, are unique - with unique personalities and emotional needs.

In the context of ECCE settings, the educator is always responsible for supporting the emotional needs of each child. It is imperative that educators always look for ways to promote children’s sense of security and stability. Young children are learning to regulate their emotions and develop skills to respond appropriately to challenging situations. It is important to be aware that any child can go through a stage of biting and any child can receive a bite. Biting is a natural and common behaviour, but it can take time, patience and strategies to appropriately stop it.

Biting is not a problem of bad behaviour, it is a normal part of many children’s development that passes when they learn other ways to express themselves. While it can hurt, and be upsetting for the child who is bitten, there are generally no health risks. All children need to feel secure and know that their feelings are supported. Biting often occurs when a child is under emotional stress they can’t control. They may be very upset or angry, and the biting is a way to show their distress and pain. Educators, therefore, must use appropriate guidance strategies for children who are biting. These may include working with the biting child on helping them overcome their frustrations and resolving conflict in a more appropriate manner. Reflecting on the environment and ensuring it supports children in keeping frustration levels low, for example, or providing appropriate resources, using small groups and offering equal opportunities for indoor/outdoor play. The environment, routines or activities may need to be changed. It is up to educators to observe and then plan supportive interventions and changes. Language is also important and educators should use language the child can understand, and label emotions for the child:

“I know you are frustrated but I am not going to let you ______ (hit, bite, hurt).”

For children demonstrating ongoing biting behaviours, the educator may develop a Support Plan in conjunction with families and other health professionals (if required). Educators need to be tuned in and anticipate biting situations and support other educators to respond to biting appropriately: Reinforcing appropriate behaviour in a potential biting situation, tracking triggers, environmental changes and other changes that may start a biting response. Educators should closely observe or shadow a child demonstrating ongoing biting behaviours to identify possible triggers and intervene where possible to minimise incidents.

When an incident of biting occurs, educators should ensure they comfort the child who has been bitten, whatever the reason for the bite. However, it is also important not to overreact. After some brief comforting, educators should encourage the child to go straight back to normal play. Some families may expect the child that has bitten to be excluded. It is imperative in the long run to ensure all children are given support. Adults should support children’s behaviour and make them feel safe and secure as they learn to regulate the complex range of emotions experienced daily in their young lives.



Milica (Mili) Atanackovic is a Practice and Training Manager with Early Childhood Ireland. Her background in the early years is rooted within a passionate interest in Creative Arts. Mili originally studied Design Communication before moving into Early Childhood Care and Education in Australia.  Considering training and mentoring as a key element of quality in the early years, Mili has worked as an Educator, Service Manager and Trainer, she also combines experience from a range of creative disciplines to her work.

3 comments Comments

3 Responses

  1. Another interesting perspective on Biting in the childhood setting.
    From my experience and perspective Biting can also be related to teething and another way for a child to communicate , however challenging as it may be.
    Biting always creates a lot of anxiety for the childcare professionals because they do not want to see any child hurt and parents get very upset and angry when their child receives a “bite”.
    Biting can also be a learned behaviour in the childcare setting especially if it is ongoing for a period of time.
    It is one of the most frustrating behaviours for childcare professionals to manage and report to parents , however sensitively done.

  2. Milica Atanackovic says:

    Thank you so much, Fiona, for your perspective and comments. As you point out biting is triggered and happens for a variety of reasons and it absolutely causes highly charged emotions for everyone concerned. As I discuss in the blog, Educators play a vital role in minimising the likelihood and opportunity for biting to occur and managing those that do occur positively and in the best interests of all children involved. That said and as you importantly discuss, biting is very testing for ECCE professionals because all situations are different and unpredictable. Biting can cause huge concern for Educators and parents, as you raise when a biting incident occurs it can be very challenging to communicate. Working collaboratively with the families of both biting children and children that have been bitten frequently to keep them informed and to develop joint strategies for change has in my experience proven to result in the best outcomes. Biting is more common when young children are in groups, information evenings and open communication with families prior to children beginning ECCE can help to minimise and deal with biting if it occurs.

  3. Saidhbh O'Brien says:

    Is bitting an incident to be reported on the Accident/Incident Book?If bitting occurs, should it be registered on the book?

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