Put a stop to biting

Experts suggest that up to a quarter of all children will bite others at some stage. Many parents say that it's one of the worst things your child could do in public. So how do we put a stop to biting?

Angus was a gentle toddler – loving and easy-going. But he had a nasty habit; he was a biter – not of friends or family, but he bit children he didn’t know. “I couldn’t believe it was happening,” says his mum, “it was just awful. For a good year I avoided everything except being on my own or with close friends. I couldn’t face coffee mornings, parks, soft-play areas. I just withdrew into myself.”

When your child bites, it’s worse than a full-blown tantrum in a supermarket. Other parents are appalled; the victim nurses a throbbing red mark and you wish you could just sink into the ground. It’s about the most antisocial, public thing your child can do.

Reactions of other parents can be out of proportion,” says Mallory Henson, educational psychologist. “And it’s very difficult to remain calm.

Many parents of biters complain they receive an unfair dose of disapproval – often their children have been heavily provoked. “The worst thing about it is that other parents complain so much,” says one mum whose seven-year-old son recently bit his classmate. “Other children have equally antisocial habits – taunting and teasing – but the biter is the one who gets the blame.”

Not all kids bite, but anecdotally experts say up to a quarter of all children will do so at some stage – mostly between the ages of two and three. It is a phase that does pass – by four, most children have grown out of it. Some try the odd nip and move on, others grow into serial biters. And it’s a serious problem – not least because it hurts so much and can get your child kicked out of nursery. But it doesn’t mean your child is a monster – many biters are otherwise gentle and sociable.

Why do they bite?

Understanding why a child bites is key to beating the problem. Not all children bite out of anger or to hurt another child – in fact young toddlers can’t really understand how much pain they’re causing. “You must ask yourself what the child is achieving by biting,” says Lyn Fry, educational psychologist. “Think what the reward is for him or her – does he get a huge amount of attention?”

Experts advise parents to try and see biting as a way of communicating rather than just bad behaviour – once we do that, we’ve got more choices in how to respond.

Look at who they bite, when they bite and in what situations. And a tailor-made response will be more effective than a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

How to stop it

In all instances, react swiftly, and keep your cool. Don’t ever – ever – bite back or hit – retaliation could be dangerous. “You’re just teaching them violence causes violence,” says Mallory Henson. But don’t dodge the issue – children need to know immediately that what they have done is wrong.

Give the victim sympathy and the biter a clear message this is an unproductive way of getting attention.

If time-out is one of your methods, now’s the time to use it. If the bite was over a toy or treat, remove it for a short while. If a child tries to control his or her mum by biting, try physically putting a part of their body in the way as they go to bite – an arm or a leg, which will stop them in their tracks.

When nothing works

“I can’t help feeling the people who give out advice haven’t actually struggled with a child who bites,” says one mum of a ‘serial’ biter. There are a number of reasons methods may not work – there may be omething getting in the way of your child learning – perhaps anxiety. Some children learn at different speeds and won’t pick up on things straight away – you might just need to be more persistent.