Biting Signals a Need for Communications Skills

posted 12/17/21 -- While behaviors such as biting and hitting are not desirable, they are actually developmentally appropriate.

That statement may be hard to wrap your head around, but these behaviors are natural and common responses to a young child’s strong emotions. Young children do not have the skills yet to express emotions such as sadness, frustration, or anger, so often the response is to bite, yell or hit.

But what is an exasperated parent to do? These behaviors are unwanted and not welcome in homes or schools.

If we can change our response from punishment to teaching, we will be more successful in eliminating the behavior and teaching the self-regulation skills children will need for success in both school and life.

To do so, first recognize the behavior as a form of communication. Ask yourself what your child may be trying to tell you. When you look at it that way, your instinct is to help rather than to punish. Now you can think about telling your child what to do, instead of what not to do.

Let’s take a look at a common scenario:

Your child wants a toy that a sibling or friend is using. He first tries to grab it, but soon resorts to hitting or biting to get what he wants.

Your first instinct may be to yell or use some other form of punishment, but first take a deep breath and calm yourself. Then, teach your child what he can do in this type of situation. It might sound like this:

“You wanted that toy, but your brother was still using it. You may NOT hit or bite him. Next time, walk over and ask, ‘Can I play with that?’ Would you like to try that now?”

Then lead him through those steps. With patience and repetition, you will see your child begin to use the new skill instead of resorting to the emotional response.

Tips like this come from Conscious Discipline, our Head Start social-emotional curriculum. We know that by forming connections and looking for teachable moments, we will give our students needed skills.

If you want to learn more about Conscious Discipline, come to a parent meeting, where a new topic is discussed monthly. You can also ask your child’s teacher or site supervisor for advice or guidance. We are your partners in education and are here to help with these frustrating, yet common, issues.