Managing Challenging Behaviours including Biting

As young children navigate their way through many developmental hurdles, many find it difficult to express their frustrations in social interactions due to limited language, lack of understanding with turn taking and the ability to deal with conflicts. The predominant behaviours presenting themselves include biting, pushing and hitting. When this occurs children need guidance to enable them to begin to self-regulate their emotions, be empathetic to one another and understand how their behaviour impacts those around them. It is vital for children’s development that adults take a positive approach by using behaviour guidance in order to understand what is the root cause of the behaviour such as biting (is it teething, an act to gain attention, exploring the world around them by mouthing and investigating cause and effect, frustration due to wanting a desired object or lack of verbal communication? (NCAC, 2012)

When undesirable social behaviours occur from, or to a child many families may feel a mix of anger, guilt, frustration and concern for the level of supervision provided by educators. Unfortunately these behaviours can take place extremely quickly despite an adult being next to the children and quite often without any warning signs being presented. Biting is a developmental norm for children under three years of age and not an indication that something is “wrong” with the child, home or Centre. It is important to maintain open communication and develop mutual trust between parents and Educators. By creating this open dialogue parents and educators are able to provide consistency in expectations and explanations. Managing these behaviours by explaining to a child how that behaviour hurts their peers and that it is not a kind thing to do, is an appropriate discussion with a child under the age of three years of age. (NCAC, 2012)

Labelling a child as a “hitter, biter or pusher” can be detrimental to solving the behaviour, as children feel as though that is their identity, thus intensifying the behaviour. In an article titled ‘The Zero to Three’ discusses that there are strategies that can help to prevent undesirable behaviours by distracting the child. Such strategies may include:

Supporting the children through the situation by helping them structure simple sentences, asking a child to move out of their personal space or with biting you can supply the child with objects to support their need for oral stimulation such as a teething ring.

  • Taking the child for a walk in order to reduce the tension that the child is feeling and focus their attention onto something else.

  • Another social situation that often can result in these undesirable behaviours is sharing where adults can give visual reminders such as sand timers as well as their support through this learning experience.

  • Another suggestion from the article is to read stories about the behaviour with your child which are able to be found through libraries, book shops and online. This is a fantastic way for you and your child to discuss how the characters are feeling throughout the book and how we navigate through different situations. (Zero to Three, 2016)

ACECQA has also highlighted how adults can assist children in day to day interactions that lay foundations for the child’s development of self, attitudes, values and behaviour patterns

  • Being consistent, fair and understanding and supporting and guiding all children’s behaviour positively, such as giving a child positive feedback and attention when participating in interactions with peers in a desirable way.

  • Sometimes Educators may use their tone of voice which may indicate being firm, using words and their manner in which they communicate to a child that a behaviour such as biting is not acceptable. At no time will an Educator think a child is “bad” or “naughty”, rather they are trying to aid the child in stopping the undesirable behaviour.

  • By discovering what the trigger of the behaviour is for an individual child, enables an adult to create a plan to prevent and avoid the child being put into a position where they feel they need to display that behaviour. (NCAC, 2012) This is a crucial element of knowing how and when to support the child. An adult needs to be able to observe the signs where the child may need adult intervention before resorting to a past behaviour if they are struggling to use their new skills.

One of the most important things to remember is that it takes time for a child to learn a new behaviour or response and they will need lots of support, patience and positive feedback to guide them through this developmental phase. This may be done by spending one-on-one time with the child and closely observing their interactions, whilst giving them the communication and language skills to assert themselves in a more appropriate manner. It is also important to create a space where a child is able to go to sit on cushions away from where majority of the children are. This creates a safe space where a child can easily access if they feel overwhelmed due to sounds, lights and overcrowding, be scaffolded to continually discuss how their actions affect those around them, ensure they are having quality sleep and providing opportunities for them to participate in active play. (Zero to Three, 2016)

Young children have an amazing capacity to learn quickly which is highly beneficial in negotiating and problem solving when interacting with others. All children will require different levels of adult support throughout their days and these moments can be viewed as “teachable moments” as children are able to use skills that adults have given them, in order to build their own strategies when responding to a variety of challenging situations throughout their lives. (NCAC, 2012)

ACECQA 2012, Embracing quality child care: A collection of NCAC’s Family Factsheets, NCAC, viewed 25 November 2016
Stonehouse, A 2008, Biting in Child Care, NCAC, viewed 23 Novemeber 2016
Toddlers and Biting: Finding the Right Response 2016, Zero to Three, viewed 23 November 2016