A parent's guide to biting

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It's a wonderful moment when you notice that your child has got their first tooth. That glint of white in the gummy mouth is something to treasure. But what should you do if your child starts to use their teeth to bite you or - even worse - other children? When is a child likely to start biting?

It's a wonderful moment when you notice that your child has got their first tooth. That glint of white in the gummy mouth is something to treasure. But what should you do if your child starts to use their teeth to bite you or - even worse - other children?

When is a child likely to start biting?

Most children will go through a biting phase at some point in their lives.

The most usual time is in the second year, but some children do bite when they are three or so. Happily for us, most children settle for a 'one off'

biting spree in which they may bite just once or twice and then stop. This spate is often exploratory and can even be accompanied with a smile! The child is simply finding out what it feels like to bite. They will be very interested in your reaction. This means that it is important to handle this type of biting in a low-key fashion. Avoid laughing, even if it is funny, because otherwise your child will learn that this is something that adults seem to like. In the same way, you should also avoid getting cross because, again, children can learn that biting gives them adult attention. A good strategy is to say 'no' in a firm voice and even move the child away from you slightly. This helps the child to realise that this behaviour is not acceptable and does not pay dividends.

What do I do if my toddler keeps biting other children?

This can be very upsetting for everyone, especially as some toddlers seem to choose the same child to pick on and it is not unknown for that child to be their friend! This type of biting is a little more complex to unravel, but can be linked to frustration and the need to gain some control. In the same way that some toddlers have tantrums, others do bite. From the toddler's point of view, biting is a quick way of getting another child to drop something that she wants. It is also a way of helping to relieve tension and express anger.

Interestingly, once children have learned to talk well, the amount of biting may decrease sharply. Suddenly, children can try arguing with adults, asking for things and of course, squabbling with their playmates as an alternative to biting.

For some children the arrival of a baby or changes at home are triggers and if your child is biting, nursery staff will want to gain as much information about this as possible. Sometimes spending some extra positive time with your child and looking for ways of helping them to feel grown-up can pay dividends.

If your child is a biter, or being bitten, how should you expect nursery staff to respond?

The commonest approach is to avoid punishment of the biter, but to employ extra supervision and use distraction. Staff should are also likely to focus their attention on the victim rather than the aggressor. If your child is on the receiving end of a bite, this can seem like staff are taking a soft option, but big reactions can backfire. Do, however, talk to staff if you feel that your child is beginning to worry about going to nursery. Sometimes children can be discreetly kept apart for a few days.

Having a break in this way can mean that the habit gets broken.

Finally, if your child is going through a biting phase, you can help everyone by letting your child's nursery know. Biting is a little like head lice or chickenpox. It is a part of childhood and something that many children will grow out of. If staff know that a biting phase is happening, they can keep an extra eye on your child and together you can be consistent in your approach.

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