You don't have "a biter"


You know those challenges that come up again and again and again? Biting would almost be at the top of that list right? 

We often read posts online or hear educators say things like "I'm in the toddler room and we have a biter, how can we get them to stop - we've tried everything." 

Let's be clear - you don't have "a biter". You have a child that has bitten. 

What's the difference? Is it just semantics? 

When adults label children - a biter, a hitter, the loud one, defiant - that label can very quickly become the identity of that child. All of the adults in the space can come to see that child in that light, unintentionally overlooking their personality traits, skills, knowledge etc, seeing only "the biter." 

The way we talk about children matters. As advocates for children, our conversations and framing of challenges should be respectful. Rather than seeing a child as "a biter", perhaps we can have some empathy for a child who is still learning to express their anger, frustration, or any other emotion, in a socially appropriate way. Perhaps we can understand that the child might be unsure of how to enter play. 

Several years ago, I heard a statement from Dan Hodgins. Dan was an early childhood speaker, author and consultant in the US, who sadly passed in 2021. What he said will stick with me forever: "We need to stop making moral issues out of developmental ones." 

What does that mean? Well, biting, while unpleasant, is developmentally appropriate in the early childhood years - particularly amongst infants and toddlers. Sure, we don't like it when children bite, we would prefer it if they didn't, but it is a fairly standard part of their development. What often happens though, and what happens when we label a child "a biter", is that adults view biting with a moral lens. We see it is mean, or unkind, or like it has some bearing on who this child is as a person. No parent wants their child to be "the biter" - I've seen many parents look mortified and embarrassed when told that their child has bitten another. 


So, what do we do about biting? 

Do I have a simple, one-stop fix for biting? Nope. There are many different reasons children bite, including, but not limited to:

  • Limited language
  • Sensory seeking
  • Big Emotions

And just as there are many reasons, there are many solutions. What works with one child (e.g. redirection or shadowing) may not work with another. Just as with any type of "challenging behaviour" - it is important that we take time to know the child, to connect with them, to understand what is driving the behaviour. And, it is important that we view them as someone who is struggling, rather than someone who is setting out hurt others or to make our lives harder!

Remember - you don't have "a biter". 



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