Handling Typical Yet Challenging Behaviors 



Toilet Training

Picky Eaters




All parents dread the time when the teacher tells them their child has been bitten at school. The parent feels helpless for not being there to protect the child from the biter. And the parent wonders why the teacher couldn't or didn't prevent it.

Why does biting occur among children at school? The simple answer to this question, according to noted psychologists Louise Ilg and Florence Ames, is that children bite because they lack language and social skills. They say biting is a developmental phenomenon - it happens at predictable times and for predictable reasons tied to children's ages and stages.

Four types of biting

Investigative/Exploratory Biting: For children between early infancy and about 14 or 15 months, biting is often a part of the investigation and exploration that defines babies' play. They are curious about things that get put into their mouths. They want to see what things taste and feel like. They are interested in exploring everything with their mouths.

Action/Reaction Biting: Children between the ages of 9 and 20 months are beginning to connect actions with reactions. They are exploring interesting combinations of actions to see what reactions they might discover. Other toddlers provide a wide array of reactions to being bitten. When the toddler bites down on the finger that is gingerly exploring her face, it gets a big, loud reaction from the other child and from the adults in the room.

Purposeful Biting: This kind of biting is a toddler's attempt to get what he wants or to change the outcome of a situation. Purposeful biting emerges at about 18 months and usually disappears as children learn language and social problem-solving skills. To adults, this stage of biting is the most difficult to handle.

Oral motor biting: All children need oral motor exercise. Some children need to have more than others. When they don't get it from chewing on toys, food, or other substitutes, they may choose their friends as a source. Oral motor exercise comes from sucking on pacifiers, fingers, or thumbs, eating food that requires a lot of chewing to break it down to swallow (such as meat, raw vegetables, fruit, and whole grain bread), and from oral motor experiences such puckering up for kisses, singing songs, rhymes, or fingerplays that require lots of tongue and lip movements, licking fruitsicles, and making funny faces.

*To learn more about biting and how to handle the behavior see The Comprehensive Infant and Toddler Curriculum books available on this web site.*


When toddlers feel angry, frustrated, or helpless, they may kick, scream, and flop on the ground. Tantrums are a normal, natural, and inevitable part of growing up. That does not make them fun. Help children have some control over their lives.  Find ways they can practice and demonstrate emerging competence and emerging control. Start small. Let them help to packupys, choose which of two sets of clothes they want to wear today. Giving toddlers choices gives them experience with making decisions and having them turn out successfully. This experience is crucial in helping toddlers make good choices about whether not to throw a temper tantrum.

Be sure to reward appropriate progress in taking charge. When a child shows competence in climbing on the climber, eating with a spoon or fork, or pulling on his socks, reward these early attempts at independence and self-control with lots of hugs, kisses, and encouragement.  It is important to follow through with your response to tantrums. If children get attention from
tantrums, they will last much longer than if they have no audience. Removing the audience - your self and other children - quickly and calmly when tantrums occur is the best thing you can do to lessen the frequency of tantrumming. Go to another section of the room, far from the tantrumming child. Stay in touch visually but focus on what is happening elsewhere. 

When a tantrum is over - it's over. Accept the child back as if nothing has happened. Avoid the temptation to lecture or threaten after a tantrum is over. A casual statement such as, "I'm glad you're back under control" is all that is needed. As frustrating as tantrums can be, a calm, confident approach will go a long way toward helping children grow through
the tantrumming stage.

Toilet Training

Learning to toilet consistently is a process that begins with an interest in the toilet and what happens in the bathrooms, and ends with independent toileting. The developmental nature of toileting has four phases. The first phase is toilet play. Many parents view this beginning stage as readiness for toilet training when it is actually on the beginning. Toilet play is characterized by an interest in the bathroom in general and in what people, particularly parents, do in the bathroom. During this phase, children often like to get on and off the toilet (generally fully clothed!), flush repeatedly, play with toilet paper and hand washing, and watch what adults do when they are in the bathroom. 

The second stage is toilet practice. Getting on and off the toilet without assistance, pulling pants down and up, taking off diapers or pull-up diapers, pretending to wipe after pretending to toilet (or after a coincidental success!), flushing the toilet, and washing hands are all part of the toilet practice stage. 

The third phase is toilet training. The training part comes from cueing your child to take a reading of how their bodies are feeling and whether or not there is any bowel or bladder urgency. Some parents mistakenly think that children are almost trained at this stage and just need to be reminded to go to the bathroom. This is not the case. During this stage, the aim of training is to help the child become increasingly conscious of what is going on internally. Asking your child to check his or her body when they wake up, after breakfast, before leaving home, before getting in the bathtub, and before going to bed sets up a pattern of getting in touch with how they body feels that leads to the next stage. 

The last stage is independent toileting. This is the stage that parents long for - they are not needed to remind or coax their child to the toilet. Children take care of their own bodily needs without prompting or reminders. It is the culmination of a process that began with toilet play and ends with parents who are very proud of their child's accomplishments.

Picky Eaters

A frustrating part of toddler behavior is being a picky eater.  Almost all teachers and parents are concerned about how much toddlers eat (or don't eat) and whether nutritional needs are being met.  Toddlers tend to be snackers rather than eaters.  They enjoy eating for a little while, then lose interest and are ready to go on to another activity. 

Children are capable of regulation their own food intake (Clark, 1996).  Nutritionists recommend letting toddlers decide what to eat - without being overruled by adults.  When adults try to control children's eating by forcing, enticing, cajoling, or bribing, children begin to resist eating altogether.

What then is the best way to address eating with children?  Try some of the following strategies to support picky eaters through the toddler years. 

Continue to offer toddlers new foods, it may take seeing new foods several times before it will even be tried.  Taste buds are changing; a food refused yesterday may taste good today.

Offer small portions.

Be a good role model.  Sit with your child when he or she is eating; taste new foods; comment on how new foods taste.

Don't pressure.  Let your child control their own intake - a powerful experience with independence. 

Eat at regularly scheduled times.  Toddlers need to eat more frequently than adults, perhaps 5 or 6 times a day. 

Give your child choices of nutritious foods; avoid fats and sugars that will fill them up without contributing to their nutritional needs. 

Keep your cool.  If you avoid making a fuss and allow your child to control their nutritional intake, they will learn to listen to the cues they are getting from their bodies about when and how much to eat - avoiding over- and under-eating.


The way the day begins and ends for your child is so important. Leaving your child may be as hard for you as it is for him or her. It might seem that leaving without saying goodbye could save you and your child from suffering through another separation. In fact, the opposite is true. 

Establish a predictable way to separate and reunite with your child. Having a predictable pattern helps children feel comfortable in the transition process. It also prevents children from using arrival and departure times as an opportunity to manipulate parents and teachers. Your arrival at school should look the same every day. 

Come into the room, talk a minute with your child's teacher, and put your child's things away. Next help your child begin to settle in by offering him or her a toy to play with or a book to read. Don't rush the separation process. It may take your child as long as 15 minutes to get ready for you to leave. When you are ready to go, tell the teacher, kiss and hug your child, say goodbye and that you'll be back, and leave, blowing kisses and waving all the while. 

Do the same upon your return. Instead of rushing off to gather your child's belongings, cherish the reuniting process. Pick your child up, hug and kiss him or her, and then spend a few minutes getting reconnected.  

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