My friend's toddler often bites my son when they play together. I feel terrible seeing my innocent little boy's eyes fill with shocked tears. My friend doesn't take the biting seriously. She says "sorry" and something like, "Toddlers bite, but hopefully she'll outgrow it." What should I do?
A Over the years, I've discovered something really interesting about biting. The parents of a child who is bitten — especially if it happens repeatedly — are much more upset than the parents of the biter. The bitten child's parents, like you, are likely to be sad or angry at the biter and her parents. The biting child's parents, like your friend, are likely to treat this atypical behavior rather breezily, as if all children go through this "phase." Your friend may have reacted this way because she feels a little guilty — her child's behavior doesn't reflect kindly upon her.
For the record, not all children bite people at some point in their toddler (1and 2-year-old) or preschool (3- and 4-year-old) years. Though it isn't typical, biting is within the range of normal behaviors that some toddlers and an occasional 3- or 4-year-old exhibit; no one need panic. Nonetheless, biting must be firmly and absolutely prevented.
The advice I would give to your friend is that she need not feel guilty, but she should feel that it's her responsibility to work at solving the problem. Here are some thoughts about why this unacceptable behavior might occur and what you and your friend can do to help.
A small amount of aggression in one form or another — grabbing, hitting, scratching, even biting — is normal in toddlers. It usually pertains to defending possessions or pursuits from invaders, or to attempting to acquire something desirable. As we all know, toddlers have neither sophisticated language nor refined social skills, so they tend to express their wants physically. Even so, many toddlers never bite, or do so only once or twice in their lives. Biting occurs even less frequently in 3- and 4-year-olds. Usually, repeatedly offering consistent, calm admonitions and advice during this early stage of life is sufficient to guide children away from physical aggression and into the verbal, patient, peaceful ways of interacting with peers that we prefer (see sidebar, "Words to a Biter").