Dealing with a Child who Bites

The word biting brings distressing memories to many parents of young children. Biting is a common phase that many young children go through as they navigate their initial interactions with the world. Through these interactions, they understand that they are independent beings capable of having an impact on the world. They explore limits around what is acceptable and what is not and gradually learn to communicate better.

While this is a process for young children, biting as a phase comes with a lot of stigma and shaming around parenting and the child itself. Understanding why biting happens might make it easier for us to look at is as part of a child’s development and address the issue instead of blaming and worrying. 

What triggers Biting?

Some common physical triggers 

Teething: Children begin teething anywhere between 3 and 12 months of age and by the time they are about 3 years, they usually have their full set of primary teeth. During the this phase, they experience sensitivity which makes them want to bite.

Oral Stimulation: When we look at biting, it is helpful to look at the diet we offer. Often,  food for children are overly soft and mashed which give the sprouting teeth hardly any work to do. This leaves the teeth unsatisfied and children look for things to bite such as their toys, another child’s hands or even an adult.

Some common psychological triggers

Attention: Many children bite in order to get attention. This is quite frustrating for parents who feel like they already give enough attention to their little one. When there are many guests, especially other young children, at home, your child may feel like she does not get the attention she usually gets.

Lack of Vocabulary: When children lack the vocabulary to communicate their joy, frustration or excitement, they may bite to say “Hey, this is my toy” or “I don’t want to play with you!” but may not have the words to articulate this intent. Biting is a way of communicating this intention.

Asserting Power: In situations where toddlers feel like they have no control, biting helps them assert their power. They do not have the capacity or brain development to rationalise the consequences of biting. By biting, they simply try to communicate that they are in control.

Exploring Limits: Most of toddlerhood is spent in children trying to understand what is acceptable and what is not. They constantly try and do things and look at us to see our reaction. This is their way of understanding how the world works. With biting, which often gets remarkable reactions, children love to see what happens and how far they can go.

Understanding Group Play: Many of us have observed toddlers having difficulty sharing their toys or even their space. This is not because they do not know what sharing means, but merely because their brain is not yet fully developed to practice sharing. The prefrontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for actions such as self-control is still developing in young children, making it hard to share. 

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Doodle Credits : Abirami & Daddy 

Anxiety: Toddlers also bite when they are anxious. They may bite because they feel threatened or uncertain. This can be observed especially when they start at a new school or have some guests at home, birth of a sibling or a dog.

So what can we do about all the Biting? 

  • Firm not Loud

It is important to be firm but not loud. When a child has bitten, go down to their level, look into their eyes and say “NO”. This no will always remain a no and the more firm and consistent we are with it, the easier it is for the child to let the idea sit. They understand that we will not change our minds and that when they bite, we will stop them. 

  • Distract or Divert

Another helpful technique is to separate the two children. Sometimes, the child may just be overstimulated or excited, that they may end up biting. Taking the child for a walk or to a different place to calm down helps diffuse the tension. 

  • Breaking the Habit

Many children get into the habit of biting and this becomes second nature to them. It is important to observe what triggers the biting and try to step in before it begins. This will slowly lead to the child looking in our direction when they want to bite and we can then tell them from afar that they should not bite.

  • Opportunities to Bite Food

It will help to give the child enough food to chew on such as apples, carrots, chapatis, beans, etc. Eating fibrous vegetables or fruits will give their teeth the much needed work and satiate the need to bite.

  •  Attention

Typically, when a child has bitten another, we divert all our attention to the one who has bitten and this gives them attention. Instead, attending first to the child who has been bitten may take away the attention from the child who has bitten.

  • Stories

With young children, stories of children their age, with whom they can relate to, are helpful. These can be oral stories or stories from a book. It is helpful to have some books on biting that we can regularly read to and discuss with the child. Instead of having books that say what not to bite, we can choose a book that shows them the different foods that they can bite. This helps in positively shifting the focus to what to do instead of what not to.

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Doodle Credits : Abirami & Daddy

 What to avoid?

  • Biting back to prove a point

Sometimes, we are desperate that we end up ‘pretending’ to bite the child in hope that this will make them understand how we feel. This is very confusing for the child and often funny because, as discussed earlier, it is not that toddlers don’t know that biting is wrong but the self-control is still emerging.

  • Isolating

Isolating a child who has bit or giving them a time-out not only makes them feel cornered but also helpless. Instead, we can engage with them and show them what they can do. As adults, we do not like to be put in a corner and children are no different. Just as talking kindly helps us resolve our issues, talking to the child kindly shows them that we do not want to corner the child itself but only the action.

The most helpful tool for us as adults is patience and observation. As upsetting as it is for us to watch our child go around biting others, we must understand that this is only a phase! When we show children how to handle situations that trigger biting, they will learn to communicate better. Our biggest tool is observing their interactions. When we observe, we will notice when the biting happens and why and how it happens. This is the starting point as having the information is always helpful in handling the situation. 

Kanaa’s Winter Cream Adventure: In the Words of her Mamma

The work of a child is hidden in the form of play. Through innocent and mischievous play, little children understand much about themselves and the simple lives that they lead. However, adults often fail to pause and understand the intent behind these acts and view them as behaviour that need to be reprimanded. Without comprehending why and how the innocent play began, we swoop in and rearrange the child’s play to restore our idea of order.

This story is narrated by a tired mother who recollects her little child’s innocent play and shares with us the events that ensued. Between the lines of this story, there is much left for us learn from the mischief, the innocent 2 year old behind the mischief and the mother who witnessed the mischief!


It was a usual weekday noon. I was busily preparing lunch while Kanaa was occupied in a rather quiet activity. Usually, I have to plead with Kanaa to find something to play on her own but that day seemed easy. She had found something to busy herself with and stayed unusually quiet. Since I was a first time mother, I hadn’t fully realised what it meant when things were quiet in a toddler’s room. I was happy and relieved that I had avoided a power-struggle with my toddler and continued to cook peacefully. It had hardly been minutes since I began feeling a sense of zen when Kanaa came running out with her hands and face WHITE! They were completely covered in layers of thick, winter moisturiser. 

My first reactions were speechless! I was absolutely dumbstruck. The tired mom in me began to wonder how much cleaning would have to go into this. This particular winter cream is extremely thick  and used for harsh winters that we experience in Switzerland. The box recommends a very thin layer which stays on and shows clearly. So, you can imagine! But before I could react, I just stopped to notice the pride on the two year old’s face. She was smiling wide and her nose was up in the air feeling ever so proud of what she had achieved. She broke the silence by saying excitedly, “Amma, look I applied cream all by myself. I also applied for Georgie.” Yes indeed, she had perfectly applied moisturiser for herself and her favourite plush toy ‘George’ – curious George, the monkey. 

I just began to laugh. I laughed incessantly and grabbed my phone to take a photo before the scene could change. I just wanted to freeze the moment, before the tired mom in me woke up again. This photo still remains precious to our family. I knew at that moment that I should cherish this for it will never happen again. I simply stood there and listened carefully to her endless explanations of how she had achieved her dream goal! 

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She then took me by my hand and walked me over to her room to show HOW she had achieved this feat. She took me around the room and described the whole process to me. To my surprise, there was hardly any mess at all. Imagine a two year old had opened a box of cream that she could dip her whole hands into! There were no marks or white patches anywhere. The box of cream was open, it was as good as new just a day earlier, but now it was almost over. 

She wanted to come clean with me. She pointed out the areas where she had accidentally smeared the cream on while applying for herself and Georgie – the bed sheet, the side table and the mirror. She then narrated a long story of how she had used the roll of tissue, which I usually kept handy in her room because of how it gets with toddlers, to wipe out the messy areas. They were hardly visible since she had wiped them out quite well and neatly collected the used tissues by the side of the bed. 

The tired mom in me, which had wanted to giver her a piece of my mind about all the cleaning that I would have to do, had just disappeared. I was thoroughly impressed by ‘the process’. In the photo, on close observation, one might notice how neatly she has applied the cream. She had intended to make no mess. It wasn’t a joke to her. It was serious work. Kanaa’s goal for that afternoon was to impress herself and her Amma by giving her one less thing to do for the day – apply moisturiser by herself! And, IMPRESSED, I was. 

Nevertheless, I did spent the next three days giving her thorough showers and soaks in the tub to get the thick layers of winter cream out of her hair and face. As for Georgie, he went into the washer for two full wash cycles. 

My little baby is now five years old and applying cream might never impress her, or me, the way it had, three years ago. I’m so happy that both of us could live in that moment and enjoy it. It is so hard as a parent, to choose the right way to react to situations like these. I learnt then to remember to stop, think, re-think and make the choice and then react. 

Akanksha’s game of Hide & Seek

Here is a story of little Akanksha who lives in San Jose with her parents Akshay and Shyama and her younger brother Dhruv. Akanksha turned 6 last month and has been going to public school, or as she calls it “big girl school” for the past year. Her parents sheepishly remark that dear Aaku is quite a bossy little one who thinks it is her responsibility to boss everyone, just like she does with her brother!

Apart from bossing her brother around, little Aaku enjoys playing hide and seek. It started off as an innocent game when, as a toddler, she used to hide herself in the same spot and giggle away even before she was ‘found’. However, these days she has upgraded her games from hide and seek to just hiding and then for hours after that, her desperate parents have to seek her. Aaku’s disappearing acts are definitely not something that Shyama or Akshay or even Dhruv for that matter, look forward to.

Her father recollects a particularly nightmarish incident which happened last August when they experienced one of the hottest summers. The entire family had to regularly treat themselves to some water-play in the evenings when the dryness and heat would reach its peak! Aaku in particular had been complaining of the heat and much to her parents’ dislike, had started sneaking some water balloons indoors on those really hot days. One Saturday evening, in late August, the family had some guests over for the weekend and spent the evening relaxing in their backyard while the kids ran wild playing with water-guns, rolling on the grass and jumping on the hammock together. None of the adults slowed the hyper children down and, in fact, were quite excited that they were exhausting themselves without any help from their end, because they had all made a plan to watch a movie together later that night.

After a lot of screaming, giggling and plenty of water-play, Shyama took both the kids to the bath and after a quick shower and an unexpected second-innings of water-play in the bath, brought the kids for dinner with the family. Dhruv was dozing off at the table and made no fuss to go to sleep, but Aaku, who was overtired, decided to jump on her bed and ask her father to read not one, but three books. Akshay had obliged and finally tucked her in to sleep and joined the group for the much awaited movie-night!

The movie was so gripping that all of them were completely engrossed in it and had not realised how late it had become. After the movie, Shyama decided to check in on the kids while Akshay attended to their guests. As Shyama took a quick peek into the kids’ room, she saw Dhruv sleeping soundly on his bed, but Aaku was missing. Shyama immediately checked the bathroom and also took a look under the bed and on the side, incase she had fallen down, but Aaku was nowhere to be seen. She panicked and immediately came outside and informed Akshay. They checked the kitchen and every other room, including all her favourite hiding spots – behind the blinds, under her parents bed, in the bathtub and even in the pantry, but Aaku was no where to be seen. At this point, Shyama was hysterical and the whole house had been woken up, including a half-asleep Dhruv who separately went to each room shouting “Aakshu akka, Aakshu akka” (akka for big sister)  without understanding fully what all the noise was about. Akshay was ready to call 911 for help, when Shyama suddenly remembered to check in the backyard. And there on the hammock, sleeping quite soundly despite all the noise, was little Aaku. On being woken up and asked why she even came outside the house and if she wasn’t scared, little Aaku cooly replied that her room was too hot!! They realised that their naughty little first born had gone out through the kitchen door into the backyard and since all of them were pretty engrossed in the thrilling movie, they hadn’t noticed.

Well, on one side, the parents were relieved on finding Aaku but reprimanded her and put a little fear into her about coyotes and bats in the dark. However, Akshay wearily says that knowing his daughter, he wouldn’t be surprised if she decides to make another disappearing act. Saying thus, he recollects another traumatising incident back in India, when Aaku had accompanied her grandpa to the vendor selling watermelons and while her grandpa was picking the watermelon, had climbed into a random school bus.  He also mentions another incident when Aaku had gone and hidden herself in a dog’s kennel in their neighbour’s house while the entire family was searching for her. He yawns and says he will reserve those stories for another day!

 

 

Little Abu, the Barber

Here is a story of little Abu, a five year old with Dennis the Menace haircut and mischievous hazel eyes that twinkled every time he was upto something. Abu lives in Bangalore, India with his Mamma and Papa, his Dadi whom he loves dearly and a pet cat – Bijli. Abu loves to ride his scooter, mostly indoors than outdoors and on many days uses them as his only mode of transport within the house. Bijli would follow Abu from room to room and on realising that Abu has no plans of parking his scooter, would grunt and go find a cozy spot near Dadi’s sitting chair.

Little Abu loves his Dadi and enjoys going on walks with her to the weekly vegetable market. Dadi would insist on leaving the scooter behind and after some tears and tantrums, Abu, a thrilled Bijli and Dadi would walk together with a basket to buy vegetables. Meanwhile, Abu’s mamma silently worried that he was naughty and tried to set up more playdates to help him make more friends. Although little Abu was a sweet and friendly boy, his naughtiness often didn’t go well with his peers, sometimes even their parents! While Mamma was working on setting up playdates, Dadi was trying to find alternate ways to engage a constantly moving Abu. Abu would go round and round Dadi in his scooter and Dadi felt soreness in her stiff neck which had to constantly spin around to keep up with Abu. She purchased a craft kit with a pair of scissors, a bottle of glue, several coloured paper strips and even some stickers to engage her beloved grandson differently.

Abu was instantly drawn to the craft kit, especially the scissors. He had seen them before in mamma’s sewing room but those had large blades with huge finger-holes and mamma had not even let Abu near them. These scissors were smaller, more wieldy and Abu took to them right away. Dadi found Abu and Bijli sitting next to her; Bijli purring and Abu practicing cutting the coloured paper strips. It was a proud moment for Dadi, her trick had worked! Abu was finally sitting in one place and her neck was happy. All seemed well with the world.

Very soon, Abu had mastered cutting and was no longer interested in the paper strips. One evening, after dinner, just as Dadi was pulling her pallu to wipe up her mouth and hands, she found them looking like confetti. Bijli, who had silently witnessed this mischievous act, purred and looked away. Abu, on the other hand giggled playfully and ran away. Mamma had to reprimand Abu and tell him not to cut up Dadi’s sari. Abu had righteously asked how mamma spent all day cutting up cloth in her sewing room and nobody had reprimanded her!

A few silent weeks later, Dadi thought that the inappropriate cutting days were behind them and was shocked to find her favourite hibiscus leaves cut up in odd shapes! She chided Abu for cutting up the leaves and had to do the inevitable – take the craft kit away for a few weeks! Abu seemed upset but Dadi believed this would teach him not to cut just about anything and everything in the future.

While Dadi’s worries were put to rest, mamma had been working on setting up playdates for Abu. One Saturday morning, on their way to a haircut, Mamma had told Abu that Dadi’s niece and her son Romy were to visit the family. Mamma had prepared Abu to be a good boy and he was excited to meet Romy. After the haircut, Mamma had sat Abu down and talked him through being kind, sharing and not being a naughty boy. Little Abu had nodded his head rapidly in acknowledgement and Mamma hoped for the best!

Once the guests arrived, there was a lot of noise and joy in the air. Abu and Romy had been shy initially and hid behind their respective mothers. In a short while, Mamma found the boys playing football in the veranda and was overjoyed. After football, Abu rushed indoors and asked Dadi for the craft kit. Dadi, who was having an emotional union with her niece, half listened to Abu, opened her Godrej and took the craft kit and gave it to him. Abu and Romy delightedly took off to Abu’s favourite corner in the house, the secluded spot behind the bookcase. The boys seemed awfully quiet and the adults attributed it to the newly formed friendship.

In a short while, Abu and Romy happily came out; Romy was wearing a hat. Mamma recognised the hat instantly since Abu’s Papa had gifted him the hat with the letters RF on it. Mamma and Dadi were happy to see Abu part with such a special gift. When they asked Abu if he was sure about parting with the hat, Abu nodded and so did Romy.  After the guests left, Abu and Bijli took off again in the scooter on their usual rounds. Mamma was preoccupied with thoughts on how Abu was becoming less naughty, just as her phone began to ring.

On the line was Romy’s mother narrating quite a remarkable story. Little Abu seemed to have given Romy a haircut behind the bookcase! He had then parted with the RF hat to hide the hideous looking fringe. Mamma could not believe her ears and ran to the bookcase and there they were – tiny bits of black hair and a lonely pair of scissors!

 

Shyam’s trip to the Zoo

Here is a story of little Shyam who lives in Mysore with his parents Santhosh and Nidhi. Five year old Shyam has loved animals ever since he was a toddler and over the years accumulated many miniature figurines in his home. He recently watched the Jungle Book with his mother and was thoroughly spellbound by Mowgli and his life in the wild. Ever since, little Shyam has played Mowgli in his imaginary world with the miniature figurines as his friends.

Because of his love for animals, Santhosh decided to treat Shyam by taking him to the local zoo where he could see some real life animals. Little Shyam had excitedly planned his trip, interjecting many questions like “Will we see Baloo in the zoo?” and how he will scream and run when he sees “Kaa.” What Shyam did not fully comprehend was the meaning of the word Zoo! 

On the day of the much-anticipated trip, Shyam and Santhosh arrived at the zoo. The entire ride was spent in Shyam asking questions about what animals they will see and if he could play and swing with them. A worried Santhosh had clearly told Shyam that he cannot go near the animals and must hold appa’s hand at all times. At the zoo, Santhosh purchased two tickets and the duo excitedly entered together.

Soon, they reached the enclosure with the grey langurs.

Santhosh : See Shyama! Here are the Langurs. They are monkeys. Let us count how many monkeys are there in this cage.

Shyam : Appa! Look at that monkey’s tail. It is so long Appa.

Santhosh : Yes Shyama, monkeys have long tails.

Without a pause, Shyam immediately asked “Why?”

Santhosh : Monkeys need long tails to jump from one branch to another Shyama. The long tails give them balance so that they don’t fall down .

Santhosh was very pleased with his informative reply. Little did he know what was coming next.

Shyam : Appa, there are no branches here. Where will these monkeys jump?

Santhosh found the question bemusing yet innocent and couldn’t help but acknowledge a tinge of guilt creeping up as he looked at the enclosure packed with monkeys. He brushed the thought aside and proceeded to answer his curious son!

Santhosh : This is a zoo Shyama. The monkeys are here only for us to come and see them.

Thankfully, Shyam hadn’t fully paid attention to his father’s reply and was swiftly shooting out his next observation, “Appa, look at this monkey. It’s holding something and eating.”

Santhosh was relieved at the move on the subject and responded, “Yes yes, monkeys eat nuts and fruits.”

Shyam : Nuts? Like the nuts in my mechanical set?

Santhosh : No no, nuts like palm tree nuts, figs and bananas.

Shyam : But there are no trees here. Where will these monkeys find their nuts?

Santhosh : Look over there! That is the zookeeper, he will buy nuts and fruits for these monkeys from the supermarket.

The educative zoo trip was proving to be more educative for Santhosh than little Shyam. They finally made a move from the monkey enclosure to an enclosure with colourful parrots.

Santhosh : Look, Shyama, at these beautiful parrots and cockatiels. Look at the colour of their feather and their beak.

Shyam was meanwhile distractedly observing a particularly loud and large crow cawing from a big bin.

He immediately giggled and said “Appa, look at this crow and the way its saying kaa kaa.”

Santhosh : What is there in a crow Shyama? Look at these parrots. They are special and beautiful in colour.

Shyam : The crow is also beautiful in colour Appa.  

While Santhosh looked at his son amused and surprised, little Shyama continued to look at the crow, playing a game of caw-caw with very excited squeals and jumps in between.