May 2019

Biting

Author: Becca Edwards

It bites when you have a child who bites. You worry you will become a social pariah with the parents of non-biters, who also conveniently have perfect Instagram posts of their children with their hair brushed, actually wearing clothes that match. You ask yourself, “Did I labor for [fill in the blank] hours just to give birth to Cujo?” And you question your best course of action.

I remember the first time my daughter Ransom (now 12) bit me. At the time, she was 15 months old. We were in the Verizon store buying a new cell phone. What should have taken 20 minutes took two hours, so I do not blame my little lady for getting a little annoyed. But when she bit my shoulder, it stunned me and left a mark. My gut reaction was to bite her back and show her how much biting hurt, but then I remembered a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” I couldn’t bite her back. To do so would promote violence and be the antithesis of what I wanted to teach her at that very moment. And yet I did not want to have Mike Tyson for a daughter. So, Ransom and I had our first public timeout right there in the Verizon store. We were both embarrassed, and she never bit me again.

Flash forward, and Ransom is now around the age of three. She and her two-year-old sister Ruth Love are duking it out for the children’s book, Moo, Baa, La, La, La, by Sandra Boyton. I did not want to be a helicopter parent and overly intervene before they had the chance to work it out on their own. Instead, I tried to give them cues to help them reach a resolution. It went something like this:

[SCENE: Ransom and Ruth Love playing tug of war over the book and screaming.]

ME: Ransom, can you please use your words and ask Ruth Love for the book?
RANSOM: Ruth Love, give me book.
ME: Ransom, can you please try using the word ‘please’ to ask for the book.
RANSOM: Please book now, Ruth Love.
RUTH LOVE: No.
RANSOM: No! [Chomp].

Ransom proceeded to bite Ruth Love’s arm in such a way that she could have scored a role as a zombie on The Walking Dead. That’s when I thought, “Houston, we have a problem.” So, I did some research and read an interesting article about toddlers who bite. Apparently, some precocious toddlers might actually be experiencing thoughts and emotions without the vocabulary or speaking ability to express them. When I read this I thought, “Maybe my kid is not a killer. She’s just smart.” I also thought, “We have to get ahead of this.”

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, children bite for a variety of reasons. To:
• Relieve pain from teething.
• Explore cause and effect.
• Experience the sensation of biting.
• Satisfy a need for oral-motor stimulation.
• Imitate other children and adults.
• Feel strong and in control.
• Get attention.
• Act in self-defense.
• Communicate needs and desires, such as hunger or fatigue.
• Communicate or express difficult feelings, such as frustration, anger, confusion, or fear.

To prevent biting, NAEYC recommends the following:
1. Have age-appropriate expectations for your child’s behavior based on his or her current skills and abilities.
Make sure your child’s schedule, routines, and transitions are predictable and consistent. At meal and bedtimes, try to do things in the same way and at the same times. Young children thrive when they know what will happen next.

2. Offer activities and materials that allow your child to relax and release tension. Some children like yoga or deep breathing. Offer playdough, foam balls, bubbles, soft music, and other stress-reducing items.
Use positive guidance strategies to help your child develop self-control. For example, offer gentle reminders, phrased in a way that tells them what behaviors are expected: “Be sure to hang up your coat on the hook.” “You can each have a bucket to use in the sandbox.” “Put a small dot of toothpaste on your brush. You won’t need much to get your teeth clean.”

3. Provide items to bite, such as teething rings or clean, wet, cold washcloths stored in the refrigerator. This helps children learn what they can bite safely without hurting anyone else.

In our daughter’s case, we spoke with our pediatrician and her Montessori teachers and came up with a plan of action we, as parents, could sink our teeth into. Ultimately, Ransom never bit anyone again. This plan included her teachers talking to her entire class about biting and Ransom understanding that just like it was not okay to bite her baby sister or her mom, it was not okay to bite her classmates. We also talked to her about not hurting the people you love and laid out consequences such as timeout and no “night, night” (her blankie) for an hour if she bit again.

My biggest takeaway from the experience is this: When it comes to parenting, you cannot be knee-jerk reactive—e.g. bite back, yell or spank. You have to be proactive. I am not saying I am not sometimes guilty of losing my temper, and (full disclosure), I admit I have a potty mouth. But it is important to have a plan in place when you see your child exhibit less-than-ideal behavior.

Also, quite often as a mom, I think I have to be the sole developer and implementer of the plan, mainly because I have more interaction with my children than my husband during the week (thanks to my ability to work from home). Plus, things happen in real time, and I need to be responsive. But then I remember how important it is to include my spouse and seek the help of professionals like pediatricians and teachers. It’s then that, collectively, we take a bite out of whatever issue needs to be addressed.

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