Most childcare settings and schools will have to deal with the rather difficult situation of one child biting another. Usually this results in hand-wringing from the parents of the child who was bitten, but also from the parents of the biter.
It may sound bizarre, but toddlers sometimes bite as a way to show love. Young children struggle to express their feelings, which can result in intense ways of showing them.
Remember this is fairly normal behaviour for little ones, so even if your child has started biting, it does not mean you are raising a monster. Toddlers are learning how their body works and they often put things in their mouth and take a bite. If they do hurt somebody by doing so, it is unlikely that it was their intention — it is not dissimilar to when a baby is teething and likes to nibble on a finger.
On the other hand, your child could be feeling anxious, emotional or threatened. If he or she cannot talk they may use biting as a defence. It can also be a way of gaining power, as this behaviour will get him or her attention, even if that attention is negative.
If it happens when your child is in your presence, act fast but keep cool. It’s important that you do not teach them that violence causes violence by hitting or biting your child back (believe it or not, many parents do this). But they do need to know immediately that it is inappropriate behaviour.
It is also useful to teach your child how to express their feelings in a less painful way. If you notice your little nibbler is biting to show love, teach them to hug instead. If they are doing it to defend themselves, show them how to find an adult to help, or try teaching them to say “stop” to other children.
If the biting seems to be a means of gaining attention, then give no more than a firm “no!” and focus on the victim. Give the child or adult who has been bitten lots of sympathy. This will send a clear message that biting is not a way to get attention.
Stand or sit your child away from everyone else for a short while and take any toys away (this is what we call a ‘time-out’). Ensure your commands are clear and positive — try not to be too negative but do raise your voice a little.
Most importantly, always praise good behaviour and make it clear when your child is being kind and gentle that they are behaving well. Your child will almost definitely grow out of the biting stage but there is no harm in nipping it in the bud that bit quicker.
Gemma Jones has been working in child care for more than 10 years. She holds an NNEB diploma in nursery nursing and is currently a creative writing teacher at Zaman International School in Phnom Penh.