Set consistent rules on biting

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Even though it might be a phase, biting isn't something that a child can be left to grow out of, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
Being bitten by another child can be frightening and can hurt. The skin is not usually broken so there's little likelihood of a health risk. However, a biting child quickly brings all pleasant interaction to a halt.

Children under the age of 1 often bite in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure of teething. That's easily solved by letting them have something appropriate to bite on. It's when they're a little older that it becomes a problem.

Often children who bite aren't aware of the actual pain caused, but do know that biting works. It's a reaction like hitting and is usually the result of a child's frustration, anger or excitement, especially when their social skills aren't quite up to coping with the situation. The youngest in the family can often be a biter for this very reason.

Even though it might be a phase, biting isn't something that a child can be left to grow out of. However, it should be treated as a training issue rather than misbehaviour.

It can be tempting to bite back to show what it feels like but that's not advisable. It might demonstrate the pain felt, but it can also confirm it as a useful strategy or weapon. You'll have shown them that biting does hurt and it does get a reaction and you've just modelled it for both of those purposes yourself. It could backfire mightily and you'd certainly lose the moral high ground.

Notice when the biting occurs. Is there a pattern? This can give you a clue as to situations to avoid in the meantime or identify a need to teach a different way of handling a situation. It might be a case of reducing the number of playmates, doing some work on sharing and taking turns, or watching out for tiredness.

If biting appears to be an attempt at grabbing attention, give 100% of your attention to the victim. Then consider ways of ensuring the biter gets attention for other, more positive reasons.

Time-out works quite well in the immediacy of a situation where there are other children around. It withdraws them from the social situation and gives them time to calm down if an upset has been behind the biting.

It's a good idea to establish a consistent rule and consequence about biting with a message simply, quietly and repeatedly put - "biting hurts, we don't bite in our family, we touch people gently and kindly".

Biting tends to diminish as language skills increase, so your observations may also indicate some language skills that you need to work on with your child - how they can ask for things, seek help, or express their frustration, or even just how to walk away.


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