Why do toddlers bite?

I was pretty upset when I left the playgroup this morning. I had noticed one of the toddlers being rough with a baby in his walker and had been heading over to intervene when she grabbed him and bit his face. There was blood. There was a bellow from the biter’s mum and a cry from the baby’s mum. It was awful.

What made it worse was this same toddler had gone for the wee man twice this morning, once pinching his cheek and once grabbing his hood and pulling him down and along the floor. Neither time had the mother apologized. The wee man was crying after the first attack, though the second didn’t seem to bother him. It could have been him who was bitten in the face.

What is the right thing to do in this situation? My instinct was to take him far away from her. Should I have scolded her? Should I have gone to the mother to make her aware of what had happened?

It was a busy room, there were lots of parents and kids around. After the baby was bitten there was a really awkward hush as both children were hustled out.

We all, as parents, know that sometimes children are rough with each other and sometimes there are accidents. The wee man is going through a hugging phase, for example, and once or twice he has hugged another toddler and they’ve toppled over. Both times I’ve rushed over to pick them both up, make sure the other child is OK and apologized and explained to the parent that he’s just trying to cuddle. They’ve been fine with it and very understanding – but then there has never been an injury.

In the case of biting, it can be serious, yet I’m told it’s very common. “Bite them back,” was one piece of advice from a guy I used to work with. “Give them a spoonful of mustard as a punishment,” was the suggestion from a mum today. Yikes. Don’t fancy either of those solutions.

I’m reading Jo Frost’s Toddler SOS book (more on which later) and she offers three ways to deal with biting called the ‘Spit, Bit, Hit Technique’ (as spitting, biting and hitting are all physical behaviours arising from anger that hurt or are disrespectful to others)

  • If the child is under two, say ‘No, owie, that hurts’ then put him down away from you for a few minutes. When he comes back over to you, pick him up and say, ‘Owie, that hurt. Give Mummy a kiss.’
  • If he’s over two, use the naughty step technique
  • If he’s playing and hits, spits or bites another child, use the sideline technique

The ‘Sideline Technique’: Place him/her on the sideline of the activity, so he/she can see everyone else having fun; say ‘You did a naughty thing biting so now you have to sit out for a while before you can join back in’; keep him/her out long enough for them to get the point then explain ‘if you want to play then you have to play nicely’.

It’s good advice for a very awkward situation – what are your thoughts?

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2 Comments

Filed under other people's kids

2 responses to “Why do toddlers bite?

  1. Good timing for me to read this post. (What a very horrible and awkward situation you witnessed!). My daughter has never been a biter or a hitter… although, she’s 3 now and juuuust started testing the waters by gently smacking (very lightly), but I can tell that she’s trying to see what’s going on. I’m very much into gentle parenting. I’ver never told my daughter that she was naughty or bad or whatever, rather I tell her that what she is doing makes me or her little sister angry, sad, or whatever. A great book that I’m reading at the moment is called ‘Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves’, by Naomi Aldort. By far, the most enlightened and holistic approach to parenting that I’ve ever seen 🙂

    • It’s tricky isn’t it? I want to respect other parenting styles but you’re right, they’re always testing the boundaries and I’m a very firm believer in setting those and remaining consistent…

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