“He’s a biter”.
I’ve overheard daycare workers utter this phrase with disdain and judgment over and over.
Biting remains one of the most socially taboo topics in daycare and playgroup circles. Its effects have both physical and emotional implications and frequently result in heightened and prolonged emotions for all parties involved…the biter, the bitten, and both sets of parents.
The sword cuts both ways: the parent of a biter frequently feels embarrassed and shamed that their child engages in such behavior, while the parent of the bitten feels personally attacked and outraged.
I’ve known children to be expelled from daycare (what a mark on that child’s academic record!) for excessive and unresolved biting. I’ve also known parents to pull their child out of a daycare or to stop attending playgroups to avoid their precious child from being bitten by the same repeat offender.
Clearly, the simple act of biting has major implications and is a pervasive event that leads to strong emotions.
Before addressing What to do about Biting, its important to understand the Why of biting. Biting, like most other behaviors, is an effort at communicating a need.
Whether that need is met or not will determine the effectiveness of the communication effort. If the need is for a toy that another child has and the biter is given that toy, she will be taught that biting is a good way to get what she wants. If that need is for attention or to continue a previously playful and affectionate interaction and that attention is given, the child will learn that biting is an effective way of gaining the attention that he craves.
It is important to redirect the behavior into a more appropriate and effective way of communicating.
The most commonly given advice about biting is to Bite them back. This is hugely misguided and ineffective advice. Please don’t bite your child back! Young children are simply not capable of putting themselves in others shoes and cant transfer events that happen to them into what it must feel like for someone else.
In addition, social behavior is mostly learned by what you model. If you bite them back, you’re teaching them that despite the possible consequences, biting is something that is okay.
Your goal should be to clearly and immediately communicate that biting is not acceptable. Quickly remove your child from the situation or from your lap and state firmly, No biting.
The next step is the hardest one: WALK AWAY! Show no further emotion about the biting and discontinue your interaction…immediately. This is tough to do because as previously mentioned, biting elicits strong feelings. Continuing to berate your child and explain why biting is bad, not only is ineffective but could inadvertently be giving them the attention that could allow the behavior to continue. Instead, give the attention to the child who was bitten.
Once the situation has defused a bit, calmly return to your child and explain that your child must find other ways to tell you what he or she needs. If your child can understand language, tell her that she can point to what she wants or use her words to tell you. Remind her that biting is not okay but stay away from lengthy and complicated explanations of why.
Biting rarely continues beyond the toddler years so know that your child WILL grow out of this. These strategies will hopefully help your child grow out of biting faster…heaven forbid you have to start looking for a new daycare or group of friends!