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Biting & Physical Misbehavior in Toddlers




Do children want to hurt others on purpose?


It's a common misconception that children who bite and hurt other children are doing so on purpose. While it is true that some children may be deliberately aggressive, the majority of these behaviors are actually the result of frustration or a lack of understanding.


One of the most common reasons that children bite and hurt other children is because they are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. If a child is placed in a situation that they don't understand or can't control, they may resort to physical aggression as a way to express their feelings. When this happens, it's important to remember that the child isn't necessarily trying to hurt the other person, but is instead trying to communicate their feelings and get their needs met.


Another reason why children may bite and hurt other children is because they haven't yet developed the skills to express their feelings in an appropriate way. This can be especially true for younger children who are still learning how to communicate effectively. They may not know how to tell someone that they are feeling frustrated or angry, so they resort to physical aggression as a way to express their emotions.


Finally, some children may bite and hurt other children as a way to get attention. If a child feels like they aren't being heard or seen, they may act out in order to gain the attention of those around them. This is often a sign that the child is seeking validation and attention, and it's important to provide positive reinforcement in order to prevent these types of behaviors from occurring in the future.


Children also learn from modeled behavior. Not that adults are going around biting one another, but children tend to mimic the way adults express their emotions with others. Is the adult repsonding negatively to another adult when confronted with a stressful situation? How is the adult handling and presenting a compromise? What is the child learning from this?


Natural consequences: Every action has a natural reaction, and it does not have to be "good or bad", it just is. If a glass breaks, you clean it up, because you were not carefully carrying it. Biting is a natural consequence of emotional stress in a child, so we must learn to identify the trigger for that behavior.


Most Common Mistakes


Freedom and limits with confortable authorative elements: Parents/Adults/Caretakers think that conversing with a toddler is the way to go, when in fact, toddlers do NOT want to know why, nor can they understand why. They want to just know the rule with words and actions that are concrete: "We bite apples, not children".


Approach with compassion and grace: Children should always be approached with compassion, respect, and grace, no matter their behaviour. They need to feel loved and supported, rathen than punished for not having the practice or knowledge on how to act when they feel big emotions they do not yet know now to control or respond to. They need acceptance and not rejection.


Behavior is not a reflection of our teaching or parenting: While we do model behavior, we also need to keep in mind that children have their own personality, and they experience other outside factors (classmates, teachers, classrooms, etc). Parent guilt is real, but it is also important to allow our children to take responsibily for their own actions. We cannot expect to have a responsible adult in the making if we don't allow them to build up from thier learning. We use repetition to associate and create permanent pathways the child will think about all day.


Apologizing: Children do not understand what "Sorry" means until is presented concretely. It ss more valuable to give the victim age appropriate choices such as: What would make you feel better, a hug, an apology, a picture?", etc.


It is an illusion to think that we can control the environment and the children



How do we handle biting and physical misbehavior?


  • Make notes on when the behavior happens to try to identify the trigger. If you note the behavior is getting ready to happen, immediately say "I'm not allowing you to hurt other children, please step away.

  • If the victim doesn't need help we leave it alone 

  • Keep monitoring

  • Stay close to the child to keep watching the rest of the day. Is it a one-time incidentor chronic behavior?

  • Too much attention on the biter creates negative reinforcement (the scientific child evolves in the behavior). Focus on the victim.

  • You may place your body in between the two children to act as a shield

  • If the victim child needs help, attend their needs first

  • After two weeks you can reassess by slowly backing out. However, this behavior should be followed by Teachers and Parent/Guardian for up to 4 weeks, and may need extra help if it is not resolving itself

  • Invite the parents to observe in the environment 

  • All adults must be on the same page


Most of all, let your child know that rules are for their own good, and they are loved and respected always.

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