Jaws attends playgroup

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By Dr Melodie de Jager & Liz Victor

Most parents dread having a biter or having another child bite their toddler.  Biting is seen by most parents in a more serious light than other normal toddler behaviour like pinching and hitting.  The truth be told, it all stems from the same frustrations that toddlers age 1 – 2 ½ experience.

Biting can be quite prevalent at playgroup. This is partly because there are many children around and the biter finds a hand or arm quite easily.  Toddlers don’t get up one morning and think, at playschool I will go hide behind a door and wait for little Johnny to come by so I can pounce on him and take a nibble from his arm, it’s more a case of little Johnny just happened to have his arm in my line of fire when I was looking for that toy.  A bite is an impulse which just seemed like a good idea.

Toddlers have limited vocabulary and when they are playing alongside each other at this age being able to ask for the toy is not always an option.  Johnny has the toy I want it, I try and pry it from his grip when that fails I sink my tiny teeth into his arm, this has the desired affect Johnny lets go of the toy and I am happy.  It’s hard for me to understand why my caregiver is so upset with me.  Back in the day the advice was bite back!  Now think about this. It might inflict pain on the bitee but the message is that it’s not okay to bite is not conveyed to the toddler instead its more likely to send a message that if the adult can do it so can I, or that it’s okay to bite when I am angry.

Believe me, as a mom of a biter I understand your frustration and the feeling of despair when a mom confronts you at the door to playgroup with evidence on her toddlers arm, demanding to know what you are going to do about JAWS here (your darling son) I actually had a dad phone me at home asking what I was doing about it. I was horrified as the incident had happened in the morning and there was no way my 2 year old was going to remember it.

So how do we handle this situation?  It starts when the baby is quite young.  When Jnr. takes a nip out of your shoulder in a moment of excitement, put him down on the floor immediately. Say, ‘Don’t bite, that hurts’ the average baby will quickly work out that this is not acceptable behaviour.  If he wants the attention he must not bite the hand that feeds him.  We often bite babies’ toes and fingers in a playful manner.  Remember that they find it really difficult to distinguish between this playful biting and the painful bite. Its best to make all biting taboo.

There is no need for a muzzle, diverting the attention when he shows signs of wanting to bite again will be enough. Alternatively ignore the biter and pay attention to the child that was bitten. If the biting is premeditated or is repeated after this more subtle approach revert to time out.

Toddlers are more likely to bite when they are tired, bored or irritable. This would not be the best time to be social.  See to your toddlers needs first.

At a social gathering make sure that you shadow a bitter.  Watch his every move, divert his attention before he nibbles on that sweet little blond.  Other parents are so quick to label a child and you might find that you and your biter are not invited to tea as often.  As with most of these seemingly bad toddler behaviours, I can guarantee that your little JAWS will not be attending high school still biting his friends when he can’t get his way. It’s more likely that he will be making eyes at the cute blond that he tried to nibble when they were toddlers.