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This child offered me a tuft of straw. I accepted it. Then his mother came and snatched him away.We all want our children to behave nicely towards others and spend a fair amount of time teaching them what is and is not acceptable.  One of the most difficult times as far as behaviour is concerned is when your child is a toddler.  Because your child is still developing his language skills (both speaking and understanding what is said to him), it can be quite challenging to help your little one learn just what is expected of him.

Most toddlers will be having regular tantrums at this stage as they encounter situations that are frustrating and they struggle to deal with their feelings.  They don’t have the language skills necessary to help the adults around them understand what it is they want or how they feel and often resort to shouting, screaming, smacking and throwing as they vent their anger.  Many toddlers begin to bit at this stage – sometimes biting Mum and Dad or older siblings or other children that they play with.   One of the major reasons that toddlers bite is that they are feeling frustrated or afraid and crying or throwing a tantrum is just not enough to express their feelings.

Biting is usually resorted to in order to release tensions experienced from feelings that a child is unable to express.  These tensions may be current or stored from recent events.  The absence of a parent, the birth of a sibling, watching violent scenes on TV, a change in childcare arrangements or moving home are all common events that can lead a child to bite.

Most parents will be horrified to discover that their child has bitten somebody – whether an adult or another child and this will lead to feelings of guilt and shame on behalf of the parents.  However, it’s important to remember that biting is not the fault of the parents or the child.  Biting is like having a runny nose – it’s quite common, it’s no fun for the child or the parents and can adversely affect others.  As your toddler progresses in the area of language development, he should learn to express himself more effectively and the biting behaviour is likely to disappear as a result of this.

Don’t waste time on wondering why your child is biting; it’s more effective to help him to release his tensions in a productive or acceptable manner.  If your toddler is biting others, here are a few tips you can use to get through the biting times:

Have a word with day-care staff or child carers and warn them that your child has started biting.  They should be trained to watch out for this type of behaviour and should also have training in first aid for biting.

Parents should always be informed if their child has either bitten or been bitten.

Never allow anybody to bite the toddler back to demonstrate that biting hurts.

Be prepared to explain to other parents how you address the biting and reassure them that you are taking steps to prevent him from biting in future.

WHAT TO DO WHEN A CHILD BITES

  • Make sure you remain calm at all times when dealing with a biting incident.
  • In a matter of fact, but firm voice, say “No biting.  Biting hurts – look at Johnny crying.  He’s crying because you bit him and biting hurts.”
  • Make sure that the toddler sees the child he injured being helped.  Don’t focus on the biter as this will reinforce this type of behaviour and could cause the biting to continue rather than stop.
  • When you are home, talk to your child about his biting and discuss different ways of dealing with his feelings of frustration or annoyance.
  • Help your child to move on by offering a choice of play activities (like drawing, playdough, playing with sand or water) that will allow him to release his energy in a constructive manner that will help him to relax.
  • The toddler who bit and the one who was hurt should not be made to play with each other unless they want to.

Don’t forget that learning a new behaviour takes time and your toddler will not learn not to bite immediately.  This means he will need close attention when playing with others.

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