Johnny (Toddler) Biting at School

The scenario is a child who is 2.5 and bites his peers at school.

He bites when he is bored or frustrated.

First things first, we have to remember:

Behavior is communication. 

We will talk about this in depth in any of my classes or workshops. But it is mind blowing. 

How this looks:

  • This child who is biting has a need or a missing skill. 

  • He needs help getting his need met appropriately.

  • And needs help learning new skills

Now that we have reframed behavior, we will learn how to recognize your individual child's function (what YOUR child is trying to communicate).


  • Unable to regulate strong emotions

  • Oral Sensory Need

I determined function after I observed the child in his class. And learned the reason for his behavior. 

Most people will jump straight to "they want attention" for every behavior. Usually NOT the case,

Addressing Missing Skill #1.

  • We need to address the missing skill of conflict resolution for this child.

  • And put preventatives in place for that. 

  • If biting is the go to response for every conflict... other children will get bit. 

  • So in addition to prevention we need to teach this child communication and problem solving skills even with limited language ability.

  • For this child. Supports were put in place for the whole class to learn communication and problem solving skills. They did it in "green arrow moments" and problem solved together when conflict arose. 

Observation #2: Biting peers stopped!

When I went back to observe he was solving problems using WORDS, but still biting toys & furniture.

  • toys/even rocking chair in mouth constantly

The missing communication skills were taught first, to avoid that peer biting & address the most obvious issue. When your child starts biting at school. Other parents start to get involved. Teachers start walking on egg shells and often the child will get isolated. 

This teacher was different. She got help. She realized he was missing communication skills and TAUGHT those with age appropriate methods.

Address Missing Skills #2.

She then put into place preventatives to meet the child’s need for oral sensory input (listed on the positive behavior support plan).

  • it is not that John wants to chews, it's that he has a oral sensory need to chew

  • when he is over or understimulated he will put something in his mouth to chew (transitions, self-selected play, clean-up)

  • chewing is not the behavior that is undesired... chewing on toys, furniture (maybe clothes or body parts) is... so we need preventative strategies to help him get this need met. AND help learning how to get this need met appropriately.

  • John chews to destress and regulate. Instead of just teaching "stop chewing" "stop biting" we can work WITH this need for sensory input & get that need met appropriately and in a variety of ways.

How can he do this appropriately in his school environment? 

  • chew necklace (buy one made for this purpose or make one by tying teethers to a string)

  • chew breaks

  • access to harder to chew foods ( maybe an apple/nuts/celery before school)

What other ways can this sensory need be met?

  • whistle

  • sucking throw twisty straws

  • blowing bubbles

  • vibrating toothbrush

  • monkey bars

  • push/pull activities, bear hugs, climbing, bear crawl (this is called proprioceptive input - and he seems to need a lot of this kind of sensory input)

When he begins to chew/bite...

  • Offer a chew break or necklace

  • Give him constant access to appropiate chewing materials

  • Redirection: Focus on what he CAN chew on instead of what he can't

John went from biting people to COMMUNICATING NEEDS. Adding in preventative to the new skills completed the recipe for success for this child. It's an on going process as your kids grow and have new, more complicated needs. 

The children in this classroom are learning. The teachers aren’t punishing or isolating, but giving them the supports they need to make sure their sensory, emotional & physical needs are met.

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Are you at a point with challenging behaviors like biting or hitting, and you don’t know what to do. Usually when you get to this point of frustration, you start thinking about expulsion, isolation, “time outs“ in the directors/principals office. These are NOT appropriate responses, especially in a school setting.

  • I’ve seen 1 year olds isolated in high-chairs for biting their peers.

  • I’ve seen parents threatening to sue if their kid gets bit one more time.

  • I’ve seen teachers sit by the child trying to prevent it all day, only to look away for a second and have it happen.

There is a better way, and it is this. WHAT are they communicating with their behavior. What is the missing skills? What do they need from us to develop/grow? HOW can we support them to get their need met in an appropriate way?

If you need help with ANY of this I do online coaching sessions or in-person visits to your center/home.