Defining biting behaviour
Biting is a behaviour that involves the use of the teeth or jaw to seize, tear or chew into an object, the self, or another person. Biting can cause injuries that range in severity from a bitemark that barely breaks the skin to broken skin with bleeding, heavy bruising and wounding. The bite may leave a mark or lead to scarring or something serious such as an infection needing medical intervention.
Biting as part of normal development
In normal development, many children go through a stage of biting at one time or another, especially in the early years (up to age 3). A child may bite to ease the pain caused by teething. They may explore the world with their mouth or have difficulty expressing their feelings, needs and wants.
When children mature, they develop appropriate ways of communicating their needs, interacting with others, problem-solving, coping with their emotions and controlling their behaviours, which helps them outgrow the biting behaviour.
Biting behaviour of concern
Some children, however, continue to bite. Biting behaviour becomes a concern when the following occurs:
- the frequency (i.e. how often a child exhibits biting behaviour) is of concern,
- the duration (i.e. how long each incident of the biting behaviour lasts) is of concern,
- the intensity (i.e. the strength of the biting behaviour) is of concern, and
- the biting behaviour negatively impacts the child’s participation in activities, interaction with others, their day-to-day functioning and development.
Impact of biting behaviour
The person who gets bitten has a painful experience that can leave them feeling worried that it might happen again, while the parents of the bitten child can be angry that their child was bitten and be anxious about their child’s safety. The parents of the child who bites may feel annoyed at their child and anxious about how others will treat their child. The child may get labelled as ‘the biter’ and others may become wary of the child.
The climate of the setting (e.g. childcare, preschool, kindergarten, school, disability support and youth services) can also change dramatically. A considerable amount of time and energy can be spent on the child showing the biting behaviour, which can have a deleterious effect on the quality of the learning experience for all the children. Research consistently shows that managing behaviour is linked to staff experiencing high levels of stress, burnout, and job dissatisfaction.
Hence, biting behaviour affects everyone involved and the child who is biting requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.
Positive behaviour support resources for biting behaviour
Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underlying causes of behaviours of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.
PBS recognises that there is no single cause for biting behaviour. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.
Biting behaviour is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem. Behaviour Help resources are at hand: