Sinking his teeth into another tot's fleshy arm doesn't mean you have a vampire son. It's normal toddler behaviour.
When and if your toddler starts biting either you or their friends – at home or at school – it’s stressful for everyone involved. Not only may they be ostracised for their behaviour and receive fewer playdate invites, but you’ll worry about them and what causes this behaviour. Why are they suddenly doing this? When will it stop? And is there anything you can do to curb this awful biting?
Why does it happen?
According to Sister Ann Richardson, author of Toddler Sense, it’s not a myth that toddlers bite because they are teething or are frustrated with something, although you’ll soon be able to tell if they’re biting because they’re looking for something to soothe their gums (generally a tot under two) or if they’re biting because they are angry, jealous, frustrated or upset.
“If there’s another little kid getting on your toddler’s nerves, you will quickly realise that he’s bitten him for an emotional reason, and not a teething one,” she says.
She explains that if your child hasn’t quite yet got the words to express himself, he might also retaliate in a difficult situation by either biting or pushing. If your child is sensory sensitive or introverted, he might react to a more outgoing sort of child by biting.
“Sometimes, socialising with other children or playing can be too much for a sensory sensitive child, and they tend to get quite overwhelmed in a particular environment (too much sand, too many toys, too much noise, etc.), which they often can’t handle on an emotional level,” she says.
Best way to react?
The best thing to do if your toddler bites another child in your presence is to walk away. Yes, it might sound odd, and the other moms on the playground will no doubt look at you like you’re letting your kid get away with murder, but ignoring the perpetrator is what you need to do, Ann maintains.
“If your child bites another child, turn your back on him, clam up, and focus all of your energy on the victim, explaining to him that what your child did is bad. Your little biter will quickly get the message and realise that when he bites, he will not get any attention whatsoever for it.
“Even if the victim was stirring trouble with your toddler, you still need to ignore the biter, turning your back on him when you go to break up the fight.”
According to Ann, very often what’s happened isn’t even the biter’s fault, but when you go and fetch your child from preschool, for example, all eyes are on you, and you will be chastised because of what your child did.
“You need to figure out, with your child’s teacher, why your child is biting in the first place. Try to identify the different personalities at play and what the problem is,” she says.
Also, if your child is biting at school, the school should take action and discipline the biter in whatever way they see fit and whatever works there for them, granted it is not abusive in any way. Chat to your child’s teacher to find out how they deal with such things at school and to see if you’re on board with it.
Is there anything you can do about it?
“Invariably, it’s usually the same little ones who generally don’t get along with each other. It’s a good idea, then, to warn your child not to bite (and let the other parents know that your toddler may bite) before any play dates and ask them to call you should there be a problem,” she says. The alternative, of course, would be to avoid exposure to the children with whom conflict always arises.
“It all boils down to understanding your child’s sensory profile – for example, does he lack verbal skills, making him more prone to bite out of frustration? – and understanding the situation,” Ann says. Once you have figured out the aspects at play, then you need to do your best to try and pre-empt the bad behaviour.
For example, don’t let play dates drag on for longer than they should – generally, they should last for one hour per year in age, so one hour for one year, two for two, etc. – and don’t expect your child to play nicely at the end of the day when he is generally already overstimulated and should be winding down with a bath, a book and bed – or whatever your evening routine is.
The good news is, biting tends to disappear over time, but preschool children and sometimes even older children may bite when antagonised. Stick to your guns and try to get to the bottom of the problem before it gets out of hand.
Was your kid a biter? How did you help them get over this stage? Send us an email to email@example.com and let us know.