Ouch! He Bit Me!
Of course it is not just the boys that bite, girls do it too. Usually biting is a behavior seen in infants, toddlers and children under age 3, and mostly seen in children who have yet to develop problem-solving skills, or self-control. The good news is that as they begin to develop these skills, biting goes by the wayside. In the meantime, coping with it can be a stress on teachers, parents and the other children.
Young children bite for many reasons:
· To relieve teething pain
o Perhaps the child has a teething ring home, or perhaps a little ice rubbed on the gums can help as prevention strategies.
· To discover cause and effect
o A child is learning if I do this, then what, so provide opportunities for learning cause and effect, perhaps biting into an apple or pear will give him the same learning experience.
· To feel the sensation of biting
o Some children just get tired to soft foods and want something to crunch down on, again an apple or a carrot can be a good option.
· To gratify their oral-motor needs
o As the child moves from sucking a bottle and learns to use a cup, sometimes very early, the oral-motor need has not been sufficiently satisfied, therefore providing teething rings, popsicles, or frozen tubes allows them to suck and chew, and in many cases help relieves the pain of cutting teeth.
· To communicate – hunger, fatigue, anger, frustration, confusion, fear
o Learning to communicate is a big job and sometimes our choice of words or actions are not appropriate and oft times that is because the individual has not yet developed the language or the skills in which to communicate those feelings hence the inappropriate behavior. Work with the child on developing tools to express hunger, fatigue, can be as easy as telling the child to ‘use his words’.
· To copy other children or adults
o Older babies and toddlers learn from example, the old monkey see, monkey do adage, so if you have a biter in class, make sure the class knows that biting is unacceptable behavior.
· To feel powerful
o Even the quiet child has a need to feel in control of the situation and will use biting as a means to get others to bow down to him and to get his own way
· To gain attention
o If Mary or Tommy get a lot of attention from the teacher and other children for inappropriate behavior, I might get some added attention from the teacher because I can do the same thing and then she will pay attention to me. Of course, children don’t actually process the words but they a behavior, the response and then they mimic the behavior. Attention for bad behavior is better than no attention at all in their book.
· To defend him or herself
o Even the most gentle child gets tired of being bullied by a more aggressive child and ultimately finds he must defend himself, and retaliates with a bite.
This behavior is reactionary in the very young as they do not understand the concepts of negotiation, compromise, give and take, or sharing. Prevention and damage control sometimes seem to be the only options.
There are some things that educators and caregivers can do to help prevent biting from occurring in the first place and figuring out what works best will mostly be dependent upon who the personalities are that are involved, meaning the biter and the bitee. First, be patient and remain calm, this is a phase and children do grow beyond it but they need your guidance in how to control this spur of the moment behavior.
If the child is the biter there are several strategies that can work:
A. Get down to his level – eye to eye and in a stern voice, tell him “We don’t bite!” You don’t have to raise your voice, you don’t have to scream or touch him but from the tone of your voice, the look in your eye even babies understand what you are saying.
B. For older children, a mini time out might just be your answer. Remove the offender from the others and tell her why. Even 1 minute will seem like forever. When the child regains her composure and has calmed down, you can then explain in a soft, kind voice that biting is forbidden, that she must tell the other child she is sorry. You are trying to introduce empathy, so don’t you forget to be empathetic as well.
C. For those children who continue to bite, try praising them for every time they make the decision not to bite and try to share or compromise. Praise often works when nothing else will so give it willingly and often but most important be sincere, children see through insincerity in a minute.
When a child is the bitee, the one who has been bitten, wash the bite area right away with soap and water and pat dry. Inspect for broken skin and if there is apply an antibiotic ointment to the area and cover with a bandage, in the case of a deep puncture wound, you will want to notify the parents in case they want to have a physician check out the area who may prescribe and antibiotic.. Always notify the biters parents as well.
Children often feel that they only way to feel in control is to hit, bite, kick or some other forms of physical retaliation and if that is the kind of behavior the child sees at home, it is tough to get them to do differently at class. Get the parents on your side and work together as a team to provide the kind of guidance and control the child needs from those who mean the most to him or her.
There are some children who need a venue to break out their anger or frustrations so channeling them into another activity can be helpful especially if the activity is active and utilizes the large muscle groups so the child can ‘work off’ the frustration or anger. Tumbling, kicking a ball, punching a balloon, running or jumping can all be effective. Additionally allowing the child to play with dolls to help the child work through the emotions of his anger can sometimes be just as helpful as large muscle play.
A final word, never bite a child back in the ‘I’ll show him how much it hurts!” mentality, even if he does it over and over. You are the adult and you are the one who needs to remain in control even if you are angry or frustrated yourself. You may have even been the victim of the biter, but by staying calm and reaching out to the child to help him learn a more appropriate behavior you will be providing the child not only with a good role model but also the acceptance that someone cares about him no matter what he has done and understands.