As parents we know that small children fight. Some of the aggressive behaviours displayed during fighting are scratching, hitting, pushing, hair pulling, pinching and even spitting. The one behaviour that is at the top of a mothers most concerned list, is biting.

Biting is common amongst toddlers and younger children who are in day care. Despite this being a common and normal behaviour it is most definitely not acceptable. It is also a behaviour that young children can unlearn.

The act of biting amongst children under the age of 3, is the child’s way of expressing frustration and anger. Children of this age and under do not have the vocabulary to express their anger and frustration so they act it out.

Biting is extremely concerning, not only for day care staff but also for the parents of the biter and the child who is bitten. It’s a prickly reality of life with children.

Piaget, a Swiss psychologist well known for his work on child development, reminds us that children do not think like adults. Adults need to use interventions targeted to the toddler. These include responding promptly and educating these young children on other techniques that keep them from using their teeth as weapons.

As children get older and learn to express their frustrations and needs, biting usually lessens. Should the biting behaviours not be brought under control it can develop into a very nasty habit. A word of advice to all parents, don’t sit by idly and think the behaviour will go away on its own. Your job is to stop this behaviour before it becomes a habit. Failure to act may lead to you having a very unpopular child.

If your child is a biter, you will understand the embarrassment and fear that your child may need to be removed from the crèche. The carers at the crèche do not need the threat or reality of legal action and have to face the fury of parents upon hearing their child has been bitten.

When a child bites another child it would be important to find the reason for the biting.

A few reason a child may bite are:

  • Another child has what he wants and he doesn’t know how to express his want for the object;
  • The child is protecting himself against being bullied;
  • Seeking control and trying to gain power over another child;
  • Imitating what he sees happening around him and tests the biting behaviour out for himself;
  • He could be impulsive and lack self control, or is easily frustrated;
  • Possibly trying to get attention and biting is a sure way to become the centre of attention;
  • Stress can also contribute to a child biting. Are the parents divorcing, is the child sick, have there been great changes recently in the life of the child

Whatever the reason is, when a child bites another child, the parent or adult in the child’s vicinity needs to act and act quickly. However, this is also not the time to over react. Whatever you do, do not bite the child back! This is contrary behaviour and not helpful at all.

The child needs to be told immediately in short sentences, “No Biting”, “Biting hurts”, “We don’t bite”. The biter needs to be separated from the child he has bitten.

Console the child that has been bitten. By focusing on the injured child, the biter learns that biting hurts and that their behaviour has consequences. He will also be learning

from your modelling how to convey sympathy and care for someone who has been hurt.

When both children are calmer, there is no harm in asking the biter to help do something helpful or kind for the injured child such as getting a tissue, a face cloth or a soft toy for the child to hold.

The person seeing to the bitten child should check to assess if the skin has been broken or not. If the skin has not been broken, clean the injury with soap and water and apply a cold compress.

Good news is that it is very rare that a child’s bite breaks the skin. Should the skin be broken, let the injury bleed gently, don’t press and force the wound to bleed. Clean with soap and water and apply a mild antiseptic.

Check if the child has been vaccinated against tetanus. Watch the injury for a few days and should redness and swelling develop, seek medical attention.

If the bite is very serious and the child bleeds a lot, seek medical attention immediately.

Both sets of parents need to be informed immediately of the incident. As parents they will want to make decisions for their children on the way forward. If the incident happened at day care, the biters parents may want to meet with the bitten child’s parents. It’s possible this is not the first time they are being called by the day care for the same thing.

This means the parents and the day care staff need to plan on how to keep the other children safe and what steps need to be put in place to prevent re-occurrences. Parents of the biter themselves need to teach their child not to bite and together with the day care staff try to find the triggers that cause biting to happen.

Once you know what triggers the biting, you can step in to defuse the situation before it occurs. Another dependable preventive technique is distraction: Small children will often forget they’re angry or frustrated if you just distract them with another task or activity — and praise them for taking part in the new activity.

Should you as a parent be experiencing any challenges in this area please contact one of the counsellors at Vita Nova Counselling Centre