Childhood biting: a balanced approach

Children biting other children is often the most common and the most difficult repercussions of group care – particularly with toddler aged children.

Children quickly learn that a bite is a powerful, quick and effective communication method!  Biting usually provides immediate and dramatic reactions from others – and can be imitated.

The team at Renaissance International School, Saigon, recognise group care can pose difficulties, that biting is primal and that it will occur in every early childhood facility. The matter can escalate if not managed in a professional way and therefore, at Renaissance, we aim to support young children and their families with this sensitive issue.

Toddlers communicate in a physical manner before and after verbal language is learned and used as a method of communication.  Toddlers touch, grab, push, shove and occasionally bite – and not necessarily to cause harm or distress to others. Young children do not always connect the social consequences with their actions as they are just beginning to understand cause and effect relationships.
Some reasons why a child might bite:

*   Experimentation / Exploration
*   Cause and effect
*   Teething / other stressors
*   Frustration / feeling disempowered
*   Over / Under stimulation
*   Imitation / attention
*   Asserting independence

“Biting is a natural phenomena that has virtually no lasting developmental significance – it is an anti-social act, but it’s an act of an individual not yet equipped to be fully social – who is just beginning life as a citizen.”  – Greenman & Stonehouse, 1994.


What we do at Renaissance to minimise episodes of biting

Renaissance image for biting story


Supervision and the monitoring of potential situations is a key element to supporting and minimising biting. Teachers engage in playful interaction, realising that toddlers in groups require careful guidance and interjection in their play.

Children are gently encouraged to participate in the administration of any first aid and comfort of the bitten child. Teachers understand that unjust and unfair treatment of the ‘biter’ is not appropriate and doesn’t assist the situation.  Staff do not raise their voices or call out a child’s name which may create a fuss or confusion and bring additional negative reinforcement to a situation.

Teachers demonstrate and encourage children to adopt healthy assertiveness practices with language and gestures.

Acceptable alternatives to childhood biting are taught and modelled – both in the event of a bite as well as when children are engaged in play. (Role play and the use of dolls and puppets is an example).

The ‘who, what, when, where and why’ of a biting incident is recorded and shared with families of children involved.  Anecdotal information may help to determine a trigger for the biting.

Communication with families is valuable in assisting to identify what may be a cause for biting and to respond to it accordingly.
If you are experiencing difficulties with biting in the home – with siblings, friends or others, please inform staff.

Working together during these difficult times to help children develop alternative behaviours is our priority.

Kerry Cole

 * Article contributed by Kerry Cole, Early Years and Key Stage 1 Leader with Renaissance International School.

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