National Post

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Friday, July 30, 1999

Parents consider worst offender to be 'the biter'

Elena Cherney
National Post

For parents and child-care workers, it does not come as a surprise to hear that innocent-looking toddlers commit more violent acts than older children.

"If I was to watch a teenager do some of what my toddler does, I would be shocked," admitted Mary Ann Ryan of London, Ont., who has three children under four years of age. "When toddlers want something, they'll go for it. They're very egocentric at that age."

While many parents often worry quietly about their own child's aggression, most would dispute the finding that toddlers are more violent than teens, said Mrs. Ryan. "Parents don't like to hear that toddlers are violent."

Parents of toddlers who are particularly aggressive -- biters are considered the worst offenders -- sometimes face social ostracism, said Mrs. Ryan, who has never herself "had a biter."

"It's devastating if you're the parents of a biter," she said. "It can put a strain on your friendships" with other parents, especially if their children are afraid to play with the biter.

Andrew and Beth Aitchison of Saanich, B.C., were not surprised to hear that more than 70% of toddlers engage in aggressive behaviour. "Kids do sometimes hit one another," said Mr. Aitchison. "Kids get excited. They can't control themselves."

However, Mr. Aitchison does not agree with the Montreal researchers' theory on the origins of toddler aggression. The researchers conclude that 17-month-old toddlers are too young to have learned their behaviour from their environment, and argue that babies are born with the capacity for aggression.

Mr. Aitchison believes that his son Matthew, now 21/2 years old, learned from videos and television by the age of 17 months how to stage fights between his toys.

"Kids copy what they see," he said. "Matthew fights with his toy dinosaurs all the time."

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