Linda Lewis Griffith

Biting toddler? No need to panic

Biting is a common behavior among toddlers. It’s estimated that 10 percent resort to nipping at some time during their preschool years. Roughly half of all kids in day care have been bitten.

Tots bite for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s a lack of communication. Very young children have poorly developed language skills and few outlets for expressing intense emotions.

They also have poor self-control at this age. Tots who are angry, frustrated or scared may bite, hit or spit at their siblings or playmates.

For others, biting is a way of getting attention, expressing affection, or simply saying “I’m bored.”

While biting is never pleasant, it elicits a disproportionate amount of parental angst. It taps into an animalistic emotion; think “The Lord of the Flies” in diapers. Victims’ moms and dads may blame the child’s parents. The biter’s folks are embarrassed and fear they’ll be asked to leave the school. School and day care centers fear legal action.

In reality, little harm arises from the act of biting. According to the July 2008 issue of “Paediatrics & Child Health,” “Wounds from human bites — especially by young children — don’t usually become infected with bacteria. Serious bites by children are unusual in child care centres.” Yes, it’s important to redirect inappropriate behavior. And parents and child-care providers should do their best to keep tots safe. Still, biting is a short, if annoying, phase. Kids will eventually outgrow it.

TIPS ON DEALING WITH TODDLERS WHO BITE

Don’t overreact. Biting is normal toddler behavior. Stay calm so you don’t escalate the problem.

Make it clear that biting is wrong. Get down to the toddler’s level and state in a calm, no-nonsense voice, “No biting. Biting hurts.”

Model appropriate behavior and words. “I know you want to ride the tricycle. But Daniel is riding it now. Let’s go down the slide until he’s finished.”

Remove the biter from the situation. Quickly whisk the tot to a safer and less-volatile environment. Do what you can to defuse any underlying agitation.

Turn your attention to the bitten child. If the skin is broken, wash it with soap and water. If she’s crying, help her settle down. Your attention directs focus away from the biter. It also models empathy.

Teach bitten children how to handle situations differently. For example, “If Miranda keeps touching your hair, you can move to another chair.”

Minimize chances of biting. Make sure your tot is fed and well-rested. Avoid crowds or high-sensory outings during emotionally fragile times. Create a quiet corner where he can retreat if he feels overloaded.

Praise nonaggressive behavior. Give your daughter a big hug when she uses her words instead of her teeth during an altercation. Or praise your son when he’s able to hold himself together after playing all afternoon with his cousins.

Help with sharing. Set a time for 10 minutes and let one child play with the desired toy. When time’s up, the other child has a turn.

Inform caregivers. Warn babysitters and day-care providers that your child tends to bite other kids. They can shadow the toddler closely to avert any unpleasant incidents.

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