Parenting: newborns to toddlers

Rookie Mum: what to do when your toddler starts biting others

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 1:06pm

There was a rash going round my son Tom's playgroup at the start of the year - not a physical rash but an unwelcome bout of biting.

It started when one child clamped onto another's arm. After that, almost all of them chomped on each other at some point. Thankfully, Tom has not joined in. But I am worried that it's only a matter of time before he gets his gnashers out.

Is this a phase all children go through?

That hasn't been the experience of Lesley Pears, co-founder of educational playgroup Stay & Play by Mummy Made This.

"Some children do go through it and some not at all," she says. "I have two little girls, four and two years old, and they have both been through it."

Pears recommends assessing the situation and trying to work out why the child is biting. "Some parents … may have a little teether on their hands and their little one will bite absolutely anything to relieve them from the teething pain."

As a mum and teacher, Pears says she has found that distraction almost always works in such cases. She typically brings along items like a teething ring or toy to divert attention from aching gums. "Food worked well with my girls too - I'd give them an apple."

Some small children bite when they are frustrated and cannot express themselves clearly in words. They use their canines to do the talking.

"When they go to bite out of frustration, we need to let them know that it is not OK," says Pears. "I would take them aside, go down to eye level, let them know that it hurts, that it is not nice and that it hurts feelings."

When they misbehave, she usually imposes "time out", sitting a child down at the edge of a room or playgroup, away from the action. She sets the period according to their age, so time out for a two-year-old is two minutes.

"I ask them to sit quietly and think about what they have done, which is tricky when they are two as they get easily distracted. After their time is up, I ask them why they are in time out and reinforce that it is not OK to bite.

"When a child automatically says sorry without knowing what they have done, they then get into a habit of just saying sorry without feeling any remorse," says Pears. "So, I would generally ask them to sit for time out or quiet time to think about everything. Then they can go back to the child that they have just hurt and say sorry and why they were sorry - even if it is one- or two-word answers like, 'Sorry, bite' or 'Sorry biting'."

Pears advises setting house rules at home, which include not biting. Happily, most youngsters grow out of such behaviour.

"I understand how embarrassing it is when your child bites another child. But it is so important not to overreact and instead stay calm."

As awkward as it is when your child bites someone else's, what should you do when your munchkin is on the receiving end?

When that happened to her eldest girl, then aged 21/2, Pears took her aside so she would not retaliate. "I made sure she was alright, gave her a big hug and said, 'You will be alright. It is OK to be sad. I understand that it hurts. It is OK to say, 'Please don't bite me. It's not very nice to bite people.'"


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