Ouch! We’ve Got a Biter.
Something that comes up occasionally at Island Prep (as well as at any school with young children) is the subject of biting. Understandably, this can be a highly emotional topic with a lot of misconceptions involved. With that in mind, we thought this was a great opportunity to discuss some of the questions we receive. What is normal? Why do some children bite? How do we stop it from happening? Let’s do some myth busting, shall we?
Myth: Children who bite are degenerates.
Let’s start at the beginning. Biting is absolutely a normal behavior in children under 3. Let me be clear, this isn’t a positive behavior and not one to encourage, but if your child is a biter it does not mean he or she is a sociopath who will end up in jail someday. Young children have limited vocabularies, they are in the early stages of learning self-regulation, and they feel BIG feelings. Biting is not outside the realm of normalcy, nor is it an unexpected, shocking behavior.
Myth: Children who bite want to hurt others.
Typically, when a child bites they are trying to convey that something is wrong. They are frustrated and don’t have the words to explain how they feel. They are overwhelmed and trying to grasp some kind of control. Maybe they are seeking attention by any means necessary. Children this young are still learning how their actions affect other people, they aren’t purposely trying to cause pain. They just know they feel out of control and are taking action to create a reaction.
Myth: There is Nothing You Can Do To Stop a Biter.
OK, I have to admit, there is a little bit of truth in that heading. Many times biting behavior resolves on its own as a child grows and matures. When is the last time you saw a 14-year-old bite someone who took their toy? (Except on Jerry Springer, of course.) So while a wait-and-see approach might be part of the plan, there are some actions you can take to discourage the behavior.
- Remove the biting child from the situation. This is especially important if the environment is overwhelming or overstimulating. The child needs to be taken to an area to calm down and regain control.
- Shower the child who was bitten with more attention than the child who did the biting. Yes, you want to make it very clear that biting is not an acceptable behavior, but if you spend an excessive amount of time with the biter, you are rewarding that negative behavior (biting) with your time and attention.
- Keep life events in mind. Are you expecting or recently had a new baby? Did your child start or change schools recently? Did you get married? Sometimes a child will misbehave to get your attention, even if it is negative. Spending a little extra quality time together can help your child feel important and valued, and might help curb the attention-seeking.
- Step in to diffuse situations before they escalate to a biting incident. Certain times of the day can be especially stressful for small children. If a child is hungry, tired, or there is squabbling over a certain toy or activity, frustrations will rise. You can step in with some additional activities as a distraction, or separate the children to give them a little space.
Myth: Schools are at fault if a child is bitten.
I am certainly not going to tell you that this is never the case. Unfortunately, there are schools and daycares out there with classes bursting at the seams, and perhaps caretakers who are apathetic or distracted. However, I can assure you that a child can bite or be bitten even with a very engaged teacher, in a setting with few children. Again, this is a typical behavior for this age range and it can happen in an instant.
As a parent, you should be welcomed into your child’s school at any point to visit and observe! Check out your child’s classroom, meet the teachers, and make sure you feel comfortable with your child’s care. Ask questions. Be an active participant. The teachers and administrators would love to get to know you and have you involved.
Myth: This Has Never Happened at Home.
Well, OK, this may be true, but you’re also comparing apples to oranges. An only child at home alone with his or her parents will react very differently than a child in a classroom with 12 other children who all want the same paintbrush. I have three children and I can say without a doubt that each one, at some point, has bitten a sibling. (Do I need to say again that this is a normal behavior?) In addition to the steps I mentioned above, we also have some great resources including this book that we read together if a biting incident happens.
Whether your child is a biter or has been bitten, it’s an upsetting situation. But by thoughtfully discouraging the behavior, it can be a phase that will pass quickly. Now we want to hear from you! Any tips and tricks we missed? Visit us on Instagram or Facebook @islandprep and let us know!
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