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When toddlers bite other children
By Elizabeth Pantley, author of Gentle Baby Care and The No-Cry Sleep Solution
A worried mother asks, “Today at our play group my son BIT my friend’s daughter! My friend acted like it was a normal childhood problem, and told me not to worry about it, but I’m horrified! Why did my son do this? How can I prevent it from happening again?”
Learn about it
Your friend has obviously had some experience with toddlers, and she knows that biting a playmate is common in this age group (perhaps her daughter has already been on the other side of the action.) Toddlers don’t have the words to describe their emotions, they don’t quite know how to control their feelings, and they don’t have any concept of hurting another person. When a toddler bites a friend, it most likely isn’t an act of aggression: It is simply an immature way of trying to get a point across, experimentation with cause and effect, or playfulness gone awry.
What not to do about biting
Many parents respond
emotionally when their toddler uses his teeth on another human being; their
immediate response is anger, followed by punishment. This is because we view the
act from an adult perspective. However, if we can understand that a toddler bite
is most likely a responsive reflex, we can avoid responding in the following
typical, yet unnecessary and ineffective ways:
What to do about biting
When you understand that your child’s actions are normal, and that they aren’t intentional misbehavior, you will be able to take the right steps to teach her how to communicate her anger and frustration. This takes time, and she’ll need more than one lesson. Here’s how to teach your child not to bite:
If you’ve gone though the above steps, and then your child bites again, you can respond with a little more intensity. If you catch him in the act, immediately go to him. Take him by the shoulders, look him in the eye, and firmly announce, “No biting: time-out.” Direct him to a chair and have him sit for a minute or two. It doesn’t take very long for your message to sink in. (And, with a toddler, a longer time-out can dilute the message as he may actually forget why he’s sitting there!)
If you miss the action, but are told about it later, you can have a talk with your child about what happened. Limit yourself to a few brief, specific comments, as a lengthy lecture is almost never effective. A child who bites a playmate more than once may need more guidance on how to handle frustration and anger. Reading toddler books on the topic, role-playing, and demonstration of appropriate actions can all help your child learn how to respond to his own emotions in socially appropriate ways.
Although the risk of injury from a toddler's bite is small, it’s good to know what to do in case of a bite that breaks through the skin:
o Calm and reassure the child who was bitten.
o Wash your hands with soap and water.
o Wash the wound with mild soap and water.
o Cover the injury with a bandage.
o If the bite is actively bleeding, control the bleeding by applying direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth.
o Call your pediatrician for advice.
This article is a copyrighted excerpt from Gentle Toddler Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2006)