More children lashing out and biting others due to lack of parental attention

Children are lashing out and biting others because their parents do not have enough time to spend talking and reading to them, nursery leaders have warned.

Too much time in front of screens, and pressures on mums and dads can leave youngsters struggling to communicate and express their emotions, it is suggested.

As a result, frustrated youngsters are resorting to biting other children, or nursery staff.

The warning comes as a poll by of nursery owners, managers and workers found that more than one in four (27%) say they have seen a rise in the number of children biting in the last five years.

More than three in five (62%) of those questioned said they often have to deal with children biting in their nurseries.

Sue Learner, editor of, said the findings were “extremely worrying” and that children tend to bite “when they don’t have the language to express their emotions”.

“Our findings resonate with other studies which have found an increase in the number of pre-school children with poor language skills.

“Too much screen time and the pressures on working parents – which means they are not spending time talking to their children – have been blamed for the rise in children’s problems communicating.

“Family life is so busy but it is vital parents take time to sit and chat with their children and read books to them so they develop good language skills at an early age. Otherwise it is nurseries that are having to pick up the slack.”

A recent study by the Booktrust indicated that some parents are using technology such as home assistants – like Amazon’s Alexa, apps, video messaging and voice notes to give their child a night-time story, Ms Learner said.

“Reading books to your children and spending time talking to them builds their confidence, curiosity as well as their language and self-esteem,” she argued.

“It is no wonder there is a rise in children biting at nursery due to them getting cross and frustrated over an inability to communicate as well as it being a cry for attention.”

David Wright, owner of Paint Pots nursery group, Southampton, said he believes there has been an increase in language delay in children.

“There are many factors for this including screen time, particularly the use of screens as baby-sitters or parental substitute where children are not engaging in dialogue,” he said.

Mr Wright added that other factors for language delay include “forward facing buggies, mobile phone usage by parents, lack of parental awareness of the need for dialogue with their children”.

Stella Ziolkowski, director of quality and training at the National Day Nurseries Association said that biting is part of children’s development, and that it is important nursery workers understand why youngsters bite as they are likely to deal with it at some point.

“There are many reasons why a child may bite another – young children who cannot talk or articulate their feelings can bite as a form of communication,” she said.

“It’s a way they can express difficult feelings such as anger, frustration or fear.”

Babies and toddlers can also bite to help relieve teething pain, she added, while some youngsters may be imitating others, doing it to get attention or acting in self-defence.

The poll questioned 1,000 nursery owners, managers and staff in April and May.

Nursery chain uses bite boxes to stop children hurting each other

A chain of nurseries has come up with a novel way of dealing with children who are serial biters – a bite box.

The boxes, which contain rubber toys and teethers, have been successfully used by Tops Day Nurseries when more traditional methods to stop the behaviour, such as redirection and warnings, have failed.

Amy Alderson, the chain’s operations director, told the PA news agency that the idea came about a few years ago when a nursery was trying to find a solution to help a child who was consistently biting others.

“In partnership with the parents I suggested that we created basically a box that’s got various rubber toys and teethers in so that the child could basically satisfy their urge of biting but on appropriate objects and it’s actually shown really high success rates.”

She added: “Over the last few years, whenever we have had biters in the nursery we implement a bite box and that’s available for them to go to.

“If we can see the children are getting a little bit anxious, or a little bit excited, which is quite oftentimes when children will bite, we can just offer them the bite box, and usually that satisfies the urge and it actually prevents them from biting other children or staff members.”

Children still need to learn that biting others is wrong, Ms Alderson said, and this is explained to them.

“It’s not that we’re ignoring the fact that they’re biting,” she said.

“It’s still very important that they learn that that is not socially acceptable, children shouldn’t bite other children, it hurts them.”

The bite boxes have been welcomed by parents, Ms Alderson said, adding that most mums and dads are open to trying different methods to deal with issues involving their child.

“If your child starts biting it’s always a worrying time for parents, you want it to stop as soon as possible, and our number one priority is to try and safeguard the other children they’re playing with as well.”

And she said she would encourage others to use bite boxes to deal with youngsters who are prone to bite.

“It’s not something we would go into straight away, but if you’ve got a consistent biter, that you know, it is hurting other children, and sometimes even themselves, then absolutely I would by far rather encourage them to bite down on a chewy toy.”

Tops Day Nurseries runs 30 nurseries around the south coast of England, and around half are currently using a bite box, Ms Alderson said.

Fiona Bland, early years adviser at the National Day Nurseries Association, told PA: “Any measures that can be put in place to help prevent biting incidents is great. A ‘biting box’ is good for children that are able to recognise the impulse to bite and then know to retrieve an object from the box.

“Not all children can recognise or control these impulses so it is important that other strategies are in place.

“These could include mirrors, emotion dolls or emotion photo booths to give children opportunities to talk about feelings. A calm zone could be created to give children support to deal with their strong emotions and calm themselves down.

“It is important that nursery staff work with parents to ensure they understand the reasons children bite and to agree a consistent approach to preventing biting.

“Nurseries may want to create prompt sheets for parents to use in the home and review these together regularly to ensure they are making progress.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Matthews / PA Wire.