Although biting seems primitive and violent, keep in mind that most all human behavior serves a purpose. In the classroom, perhaps the child is biting because this enables him to get what he wants. It is also very probable that the child is able to express himself through biting. If he is preverbal or not very articulate, he may be conveying feelings of frustration, fear or lack of control.
The recommendation that you shadow a child that is exhibiting biting behavior is a good one. Sometimes inappropriate behavior is pretty puzzling. By gaining a good and thorough knowledge of the circumstances in this situation you will be able to work more effectively with the child.
In order to change behavior you must know the antecedent conditions (what happens before the behavior occurs) and the consequences of the behavior (what happens after the behavior has occurred). Think back to the times when the biting has occurred. Review the environment of the classroom before the biting took place. Take note of the activity level, the child’s behavior, the behavior of the other children. Be mindful of your own behavior. Were you working with another student? Were you within arm’s reach of the child or further away? What happened directly after the biting took place? Was there a punishment; was the child removed from the area? How did you and the other children respond?
Once you have had the opportunity to review the before and after of the biting episodes, you will be much better equipped to change this pattern of behavior. There are many possible variables that you might be able to manipulate. For instance, is he only biting when in a free play situation? Does his behavior result in gaining your attention or getting what he wants from another student? Many of the classroom conditions could be changed to provide the child and you with an outcome that is more acceptable.
Children will learn and behave best with structure and consistency. Do not be afraid to set the rules of the classroom to protect all of the children. Do you need to have a certain area marked for the child so that he is better able to be monitored? Are children allowed to play with whatever they would like or are there rules regarding time limits or a rotation of the toys? Are you teaching all of the children the appropriate means of gaining your attention?
Are there immediate rewards if the child is doing well? Conversely, what happens when he bites? If the child is gaining all of your attention after hurting another child, is there a way that you could spend some extra time with him before the biting typically occurs?
The answer to your question is really as varied as the number of children that engage in the behavior. Remember that the behavior serves a purpose and that you can change what is happening before and after to decrease or eliminate the behavior.
How old is the child in your classroom? I ask because biting in younger children is often considered a normal developmental phase. Infants often bite as a form of exploration, a way to touch and experience their environment. An infant's mouth is one of the most developed parts of their body. Toddlers between 12 and 36 months bite because they have limited communication abilities, and they are often reacting in the moment. Few toddlers plan ahead; thus, they are typically acting out of pure frustration in the heat of the moment. Preschool aged children often bite for some of the same reasons, but a preschooler frequently bites, this is a sign of behavior problems. Other reasons for biting include a change in routine, a desire for attention, hunger, and imitation.
It sounds like you are doing exactly what is necessary to help put an end to the biting. It is important for adults to watch and understand what some of the triggers are for the child who is biting. Is the child who is biting always biting the same child? Is the child biting before nap time? Is the biting always occurring around the same toy? With this information, parents and teachers can shadow and intervene. It is important to shadow in a way that is subtle, so that the child does not believe that they are receiving extra attention because of the behavior.
Teach the child alternative strategies for managing their frustration, communicating their needs, etc. Positively reinforce them with praise when you observe these behaviors. When biting occurs, firmly and calmly tell the child that biting is not ok, "No biting." Separate the child and provide emotional and medical support to the victim. Subtly ignore the biter. However, talk with the biting child later and help them to see the relationship between their behavior and how they affected the victim.
This level of intervention certainly does require a great deal of extra time on the part of parents and caretakers, but if consistent, the biting should end in a few weeks. If the problem persists, a behavioral consultant or psychologist should be called in.
L. Compian, Ph.D.
Education.com Expert Panel
There are several articles on helping children who bite on the Hand in Hand website. Here's a little more info on doing that "friendly patrol" in your classroom from one of them:
"Do a friendly but attentive "patrol" to catch the behavior as it rises
Prepare for aggression by staying close by. Move close enough to be able to reach the child quickly, should aggression begin.
When the expected behavior begins, you need to be close enough to intervene quickly and calmly to prevent a child's hand from landing in someone's hair, or her teeth from fastening onto you, or her fist from landing on her friend. Because she's not in control of her behavior, she needs you to keep her from hurting someone. You can say something like, "I can't let you hurt Jamal," or "Oh, no, I don't think I want those teeth any closer." while holding her forehead a few inches above your shoulder."