Why Young Children Bite Their Friends

Small children have not yet learned how to communicate their needs and emotions effectively, thus they might bite or pinch their friends to give them the message that they are not approving of the current situation. In most of these cases the child is feeling angry, frustrated, irritated or even overly excited. They have an intense feeling that needs to be expressed – now!

A few reasons why children bite their friends

In most of the cases a friend did something the child didn’t approve of and the child sends his friend a message by biting (or pinching) him. He gets his friend’s attention for sure!

  • Children thrive on structure and routine. When there is a chaotic environment, he feels as if everything around him is out of control and he might seek a way to get rid of his anxiety and discomfort.
  • Overstimulation makes children feel irritated and tired which can also cause a child to behave inappropriately.
  • Leaving your child with nothing to do leads to boredom and as you know, ‘boredom is the devil’s new playground’.
  • When a child is experiencing stress due to changes in the family, trauma or any other reason, he might bite a friend to redirect his own frustrations, anger or sadness.
  • Diet also plays an important role in children’s behaviour. A child eating too much sugary foods and carbohydrates gets irritated easier.
  • Tiredness and hunger makes a child feel irritated, which is enough reason to lash out towards the person closest to him or her.
  • There are instances where children use biting to manipulate and test the boundaries.
  • Often friends can be a bad influence causing the child to lash out towards others.
  • The child might feel he needs to protect himself or his direct environment, not feeling safe and secure at the time.

How to handle the situation

Although biting is a normal reaction for small children, they need to learn that it is not socially acceptable behaviour. 

  • Stay calm.

Give attention to the child that was bitten first.

  • Reprimand the biter, be firm.
  • He/she needs to apologise in any appropriate way.
  • Redirect everyone’s attention to something positive. You do not want to extend the situation any longer than necessary.
  • Determine what caused the child to bite. Keep record of the information.
  • When you know what might have caused his behaviour, acknowledge his emotion. “I know you were angry because you did not sleep enough, but you can’t bite someone because you are angry.”
  • Give him alternatives like: “Next time when you feel angry, rather go and kick the ball or take a deep breath,” or “if your friend is taking your toys, tell him that you don’t like it.” You can practice these alternatives using hand-puppets or doing role-play.
  • Communicate isolated incidents with the parents individually. If it becomes a general problem in the class, you can have a parents’ meeting to discuss the children’s behaviour and possible solutions. Parents want to be informed and want to know how the school is dealing with the issue. Remember: they might also feel overwhelmed and tired of hearing their child displays negative behaviour. They might have tried all options without success.

Dealing with anger in the early years

Anger is a normal reaction to unpleasant events. Children need to learn to handle anger appropriately. When a child gets angry, acknowledge the emotion: “I can see you are angry.” Give him alternatives to deal with the anger like doing star-jumps, to kick a ball or take a deep breath. The child needs to work through the emotion; keeping it all inside is no good. Be his role-model and mentor to understand and communicate his emotions appropriately.

Wietske Boon, Registered Counsellor – Play therapy, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.www.childtherapist.co.za