If preschool was broadcast on TV, here’s a conversation we’d hear a lot from the announcers:
“There he is, Marv, Tommy’s making his move.”
“I see him, Jim, he’s heading over toward Bobby.”
“He’s got his teeth bared, Marv – it looks like he’s going in for a bite.”
“Bobby doesn’t seem to notice him; he’s too caught up with that toy car.”
“Oh, no, Tommy’s almost there, he’s–”
“He did it, Jim, he bit Bobby!”
“Yes, Bobby’s running to the teacher, he’s crying, and the preschool is descending into chaos.”
“So much for nap time, huh, Marv?”
“You can say that again.”
This is a scene that unfolds in kindergartens, daycares, and preschools around the world on a daily basis.  Children are coming into their own and testing their boundaries, and they’re also realizing that those chompers in their mouths can be used for things other than chewing food.
And that’s why nearly every parent will be greeted at least once not by their child running up them in joy at the end of a preschool day, but in tears and pain as they run up with their arms or legs bared, the better to show-off their latest battle scar.
So is this normal?  Do all young preschool and daycare-age children bite?  And what can possibly be done about it?

First of all, why do preschool and daycare children bite?  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Tired:  Many times young preschool kids are just tired, and this is one way they act out a bit.  It’s not that they’re mean or angry; really, it’s just that they’re frustrated.  Many young children still have problems going to sleep by themselves, and others nearly always need mommy.  Biting is a coping mechanism in that regard.
  • Overwhelmed:  Sometimes young children get nervous and bite because of it.  Many daycare and preschool settings can have lots of children at times, and things can get loud and messy.  If a child is new to a daycare this can be especially overwhelming, and biting is yet another simple way to cope in the moment.
  • Angry:  Yes, sometimes small children do get angry and bite.  Perhaps they’ve been told to hit many times, but not to bite as much.  Young children are always testing their boundaries and biting when angry is one way to try and get away with something when all other options have been exhausted.
  • Playing: Oftentimes playtime can get a little rough.  Children play games, do some make-believe, and the next thing you know their dragons and tigers racing around trying to capture one another.  Biting can often happen when play gets a little out of hand, and it’s a normal occurrence in your child’s development.

So now that we know some reasons why children bite, what can we do about it?

Don’t Yell
First of all, yelling will often aggravate the problem.  If you’re yelling at a child about biting then they’ll feel bad, but also a bit resentful.  A quiet talk that lets them know you’re serious is a much better approach.
Discuss What Happened
Ask your child about their thoughts and feelings and listen to what they have to say.  You might have heard it from a teacher or the person at the daycare, but have you heard it from your child yet?  Let them set the story straight – chances are you’ll have a better idea what motivated them to bite and how you can stop it from happening again.
Positively Reinforce
While it’s true that ‘love bites’ for many, biting your own child after they’ve bitten another is not really a positive way to reinforce in them that biting is bad.  Instead try to reward days when biting doesn’t occur.  If your child is a biter this is a great way to begin breaking the habit.  Something as simple as a small ice cream or new coloring book after a successful day with no incidents is a great way to show that good behavior will be rewarded.
Stuff Their Mouths
Consider having something around for your child to bite on.  While it’s true that you don’t really want to head back down the road of pacifiers and other mouth toys, there are other options.  Consider some healthy snacks your child can chew on.  Even something like a wet towel or a pillow will work, especially if biting is a real issue for you.
While I doubt your child has suddenly started biting because they’re appetite’s out of control, there is a possibility hunger pangs are driving them to do some rather unappetizing things.  Remember that biting is often just a phase and with a little time and patience you’ll be able to get through it.