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Biting and Overcrowding

I received a letter from Mr. Yasuji Osada, the head of Kyorei Nursery School on "Biting Behavior (kamitsuki) and Overcrowding (kamitsu) at Nursery Schools." It seems that biting among children between the ages of 0-1 has become a problem in nursery school these days. This surprised me because I saw one case about forty years ago when practicing at Department of Pediatric Medicine at the University of Tokyo Hospital, but I have not seen one since. This made me wonder why biting among small children has become such a problem nowadays.

Children often come to the emergency outpatient clinic with dog or cat bites, and as a result, the pediatrics ward sees a number of bite cases. When I was an intern in the United States in the mid-1950s, I saw one child who had been bitten by a rabbit and I recall that it took some time for me to grasp the situation. I would have understood "rabbit," but not when the parent said that the child had been bitten by a "hare."

After reading Mr. Osada's letter, I immediately consulted the 15th edition of the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, which I keep close at hand. This edition was published in 1996, about fifteen years ago. Under "mammalian bites," there was a section that addressed "human bites." Of most of the bite wounds seen by hospitals in the United States, the largest number, 80%, are dog bites, followed by 6% for cat bites. Furthermore, human bites account for 1-2%. Human bites are a behavior peculiar to children. And today, with the diversity of values in life, people are also keeping a diverse range of pets, and now non-mammalian bites will probably become a problem, too. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any data on this in Japan.

Mr. Osada notes that the causes of biting behavior are deeply rooted, and Kamitsuki and Kamitsu in the Japanese language, this has become a well-known pun throughout day-care centers, which says that biting is due to overcrowding. Like animals, children from the ages of 0-1 are strongly conscious of territory. When someone or something encroaches on their territory, their sense of security and safety are threatened and they become aggressive and exhibit biting behavior. In day-care centers, the frequency of biting behavior increases in proportion to the crowded conditions of the day-care environment.

This fact tells us something important. Clearly, if young children are being raised in such an environment, it is also having an immeasurable effect on their emotional development. Moreover, the problem of crowding in day-care facilities is not just an issue of enough living space, but is also a matter of quality and also the quality and quantity of human resources.

According to research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), even day care for children from 0-1 years of age will have almost no adverse effect on physical growth and emotional development if the quality of day care is assured and the time spent in day care is not exceedingly long. Adequate space is a basic condition to ensure quality day care. The issues of day care for children who are the future of our country not only concern the lack of day care for some children; rather, I believe it is a reality that day care is a necessary institution in our society and I would like to see the government work to continue improving it. Good day care is now a necessary investment that deserves to receive national priority.

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