Editor’s Note: Have you ever had a child in your classroom who bites? Most teachers have, at one time or another. Biting can be a frustrating behavior to try and manage, and we’ve heard from many teachers on this topic over the years. So we asked Polly Greenberg, longtime ECT contributor and “Ask the Experts” columnists to address the issue, in the hopes that it would help those of you who have or will have a biter in your classroom. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about our content. Write to us at ect@scholastic.com!

Question: I have a classroom of 2-year-olds and all they do is bite each other.  How do I stop this behavior from happening?

Polly Greenberg: It would seem that the first thing you need to do to get whatever biting problems you have under control is to identify who is biting (surely not all the children!) The second essential step in correcting the problem—and I agree that it is a serious problem—is start a page with a biter’s name on it and jot down the time of day he bit someone, and what the context was (when the child was hungry before lunch? When she was separating from a loved one upon arrival? A dispute over a toy? When the child was tired?) How many biters do you have? I would have such a page for each one. Thirdly, I would frequently compliment the biters throughout the day at times when they are not biting. I wouldn’t mention biting at all, I’d just comment on “how nicely you’re playing,”  “you’re doing a good job putting away the dolls,” “you shared so well!”—and I would make a checkmark on each child’s record sheet each time I made a positive remark to him At the end of the day, I would record on each child’s sheet how many bites—or none—occurred that day. You may be delighted to find that very few children in your group are biters, and that most of the time the biters aren’t biting.

Here are some additional ideas that work for many caregivers when they’re attempting to stop biting, which of course is unacceptable:

  • Gather the children on the rug and ask each child if anyone ever bit her or him. Ask any child who say yes, “How did it make you feel?” Help children who’ve been bitten explain that biting hurts, they feel angry, sad, and so on.
  • Say, “Some children have a problem. (Name the biters) need to learn to say words, not hurt their friends. Do you like it when someone bites you?” Encourage everyone to chorus, “No!” Then say, “I’m going to help (name them) not bite people. Who will help (names) not bite, will you?” Get a commitment from each child. Ask each child to look at one of the biters and say, “No bite! Don’t bite me!”

From now on, you or your assistant or a volunteer should stay near known biters in situations and at times when biting is likely. Be attentive and intercept potential bites. Help the frustrated about-to-biter find words to express his needs or wants, or hug and remove him. Don’t permit the bite, then compliment the child on not biting. A minority of two-year-olds bite. These few usually do it when hungry, exhausted, frustrated, or otherwise upset. Don’t let a potential biter get too hungry (give her a snack), too tired (offer a lap and a snuggle or a nap and a lullaby), and help her articulate her needs and wishes. This problem is solvable, and by using these tips on a regular basis, you can solve it.