Q&A: How best to handle a young chomper

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Dear Angie. My son is nearly six and has had two recent biting episodes. Last week he bit his best friend at school because he wouldn't share a ball and today he chomped his younger brother when he wouldn't get off the slide. He is very bright and extremely articulate and has great neogotiation skills. This is not an impulse control, it is a deliberately thought-out act. I watched it happen today and it blew me away. Dad is on a new 3/1 roster and has been FIFO now for seven months. I give my son as much one-on-one time as possible and have 3-year-old twins, so I know about time-share issues :) Any advice on why he is doing it now and how I can best help him would be greatly appreciated. Cheers, Megan

Hi Megan. It’s hard to know why your son has suddenly become a chomper, but my guess would be either that he did it once unintentionally (spur of the moment) and it worked for him in some way, or he saw someone else do it and thought it looked pretty effective!

In younger kids, biting is often a sign of extreme frustration at not being able to communicate about something that is annoying or upsetting them, but this does not sound like the case for your son. We may never know why he has started biting now. His biting may or may not have anything to do with his dad’s new roster or having to share his mum with three-year-old twins.

Regardless of why he is biting, it is still unacceptable behaviour and should be dealt with as such, which is using whatever discipline style you would normally use for him when he does something that is not acceptable to you. At his age, with his communication skills, something like biting (which hurts or scares the other person) is a behaviour that requires 'no warning' for a consequence.  This means that you can let him know that biting is never acceptable (no matter what the other person does/does not do and what he himself is feeling) and that if he does it there will be an immediate consequence.

Examples of consequences I would use are things like 'time out', or removal of a privilege like television or computer game time, or a play toy. (Just for the record I never advise taking away a comfort toy as a consequence for bad behaviour).

Hope that helps! Please contact me again of you would like any more information about this or any other matter.

To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.

Angie Willcocks is a registered psychologist with a private practice in Adelaide – for details about Skype consultations please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She’s an expert in tackling issues such as depression, anxiety, postnatal depression, child sleep routines and relationship difficulties. She has a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Psychology and a Masters of Counselling Psychology. She is also the co-author of The Sensible Sleep Solution: a guide to sleep in your baby’s first year, which can be ordered from her website www.angiewillcocks.com.