You’re sitting in the soft play with some other mums and you hear a child start to cry, you look over and your child gives you ‘that look’, the one you know when they’ve done something wrong. But more that that, you know they’ve bitten another child and very soon that other child’s mum will see your child’s teeth marks in their child’s arm and will want an explanation! So how do we deal with children biting?
You want the ground to swallow you up, you’re so embarrassed and you really don’t know what to do, apart from maybe blush and fumble your way through an apology to the mum whilst whisking your child away
“That wasn’t very nice” “You shouldn’t have done that”
…you tell them in an attempt to make them realise they shouldn’t be biting but you feel your words are falling on closed ears, perhaps your child it too young to understand and maybe they are still too angry to understand. Whatever the reason, having a child who bites is very hard to deal with and extremely embarrassing for us mums and dads, it’s hard to know what to do and how to respond.
If you speak to any staff member who works in a nursery, they will tell you that there will always be ‘biters’, it’s actually very common and lots of children go through this stage, it’s a child’s ‘natural’ defence when they feel threatened in anyway and an immediate form of defence. However in this day and age, we kind of don’t need it any-more, but our children are still young mammals and biting is very ‘natural’ to them. We often cringe as parents as it just appears to be so socially unacceptable and it’s often the children biting that are very young, meaning we can’t always explain to them properly about why it’s not OK, as they simply don’t understand!
However, around 2 to 2.5 years of age a child should be able to start to understand that their behaviour is unacceptable and you should of course make them aware of how it makes someone else feel when they hurt them. You can also encourage them to learn new words to express how they feel instead of just lashing out and encourage them to talk about their feelings more. In addition, its worth thinking about how you can show them what behaviour is expected of them; one of KiddyCharts progress-based sticker charts may help out here.
Quite often, the children biting, and their playmates, will forget about what has happened almost immediately and start playing together again but it can be reactions from other parents that are often worse when they treat us like there is something wrong with us and our child. You’re often referred to as ‘the biters’ mum or dad and it can make you feel isolated from the other parents!
So, what should you do if your child is a biter to make it easier with the other parents?
- Speak to the parents. I know it may sound obvious but when we feel like we have let our child down and the other parents child has been hurt it’s very hard to approach someone and know what to say. Start off by telling them you are aware of the incident which happened and you’d just like to apologise. Say that you are working really hard to stop your child from biting and you hope that they can understand this. You’ll be surprised by how many parents have actually been there with older children or who will see your predicament and be supportive of you.
- Talk to nursery staff. If your child is in nursery then talk to the staff about how to deal with this, ensuring there is consistency with how it is being managed between nursery and home. The staff are there to support parents as well as children. In one nursery I visited they actually had a scheme in place for parents to have a ‘buddy’. This ‘buddy’ was another parent who had been through the same issues who you could ring for support and advice. Ask your nursery if they have one, if they don’t, suggest they start one!
- Apologise when you are given the chance. If you are out in public you will always come across parents who don’t want to know and will just pick their child up and look at you like your something they scraped off their shoe. So…this is my attitude about it….If they don’t want to listen to you say sorry or give you a minute to explain then just let it go. Yes, they may be upset that their child has been hurt BUT they ARE just that, children! It’s inevitable these situations will occur now and then. For those parents who don’t whisk their child off and actually give you a chance, simply say how sorry you are and let them see you telling your child their behaviour is unacceptable. It shows you care about what has happened and you care that their child is OK too. Again, you’ll be surprised by how many people will be nice to you and let you know that they understand.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that children biting is a normal part of children’s development and it is a natural method we have for defence. As long as your child can acknowledge it is wrong when they are older and can learn to stop then there’s no need for any unnecessary worry about it.
If they don’t seem to be not stopping or growing out of it and they are nearer 3 years, then you may want to have a quick visit to the health visitor or GP to check there is nothing happening to make them lash out like this.
If you are finding that your child is biting and not listening, do TRY one of our behaviour charts to help show them what is expected of them. If they aren’t biting, but hitting instead, we gave 11 tips to help with toddler hitting last week on the blog too.
Please note: In this particular post, I am discussing children biting in reference to children exhibiting “expected” development. Sometimes there can be other reasons that a child may bite. Biting is especially common in children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This happens because there are increased difficulties in communication and differences in developmental stages. It may even be out of frustration, jaw ache or to gain some kind of sensory experience. There is a great article here from The National Autistic Society which goes quite in depth about the reasons for biting, how to respond to this and where you can get further help.
Does your child bite? What are you doing to stop it? How do other mothers react? Is this advice helpful?
Thanks again to Maria Albertsen for getting this post to us as another of her series on behavioural challenges for parents. I hope it helps.
Image above courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net