Friday, October 18, 2013

Nurse Charity talks about biting

Now that preschool is in full swing for fall we have been getting a fair amount of calls about biting.  Unlike other forms undesirable behavior- (pushing, hitting, scratching, hair pulling, pinching, verbal and social bullying), the emotional fall out from biting seems to escalate quickly, emotions run high and very soon it is family against family, teacher against parent, and some very bewildered children.  So lets talk about biting, how to create a safe space for your child (either biter or bitee), basic first aid and in the process- put some common biting myths to bed.    
 We get two types of calls at our office-  The angry, upset parent of the bitee convinced their child has been set upon by a rabid entity bent on the destruction of their child.  And tearful, panicked parents of the biter, worried they have a human vampire on their hands, facing informal expulsion from their playgroup, or  worse, formal expulsion from the pre-school.

So here is the cold, hard truth- 
 Biting is a normal developmental stage for a lot of little mammals, humans included  (aged 2-4).  And the children of some pretty fantastic, present, kind, thoughtful limit setting people get to be the parent of the casual and habitual biter.  

What follows is a nice run down of what actually works for Biting (No, biting them back does not work- trust me I tried it.  My son wandered around for a week, showing the bruise on his arm to random strangers, and saying "My Mama bit me!"  Do not let this be you!) 

1.  Make this a Safety issue.  This is a goal all parents, teachers
and children can get behind.

2.  The play group/pre-school should make it their goal to prevent aggressive behavior of any kind by members, not just biting.  So the plan should apply universally to undesirable, unsafe behavior.

3. Create a "safe place" to help isolate the biter.  Remember they
maybe just as upset and bewildered as the child who is bitten,  and
kids tend to strike back very quickly.  Teachers and volunteers need
to move quickly to separate children, and KEEP CALM!
Depending on the age group, I would suggest a cozy
playpen type space, so even one adult can manage the situation. Pick
up the biter (or hitter or scratcher etc), say- "no don't bitebiting
hurts" and set the child into the safe place.  Then the teacher/parent is free to put all of his or her attention to the child who was hurt.  
4. Safety Break- Biter in the safe place, bitee being looked after and smothered in kind loving attention.  I suggest a 3-5 minute break to allow emotions to cool, and normal activity to resume.  
5. First Aid- Wash with cold water, small amount of antiseptic soap, and apply a cold compress if necessary.  Don't panic- they very, very rarely break the skin, and prompt washing with antibacterial soap, and a good water flush is enough to clean a superficial wound.  A bandaid is often helpful even if the skin is not broken. Fill out required paperwork (if any). Notify parents.
6.  Allow the separated child to return to the activity in progress.  (and this is KEY) Be warm and welcoming to both children.

7. If the skin is actually broken, a bite can become infected and might need to be evaluated.

Things to avoid! 

Apologies- they are not developmentally appropriate for this age
group.  Your child can apologize till they are blue in the face- it
might make the parent feel better- it will not sway or help the child
This is something that happens when adults overlay their

feelings onto small children, and it opens up a huge can of worms.  You ask your child to apologize before he is ready it comes out forced, the other parent gets even more upset.
Or they refuse all together.  Yikes!!  The child bitten refuses to accept the apology!  Double yikes!!   Other
parents often take this as an opportunity to yell at your child, which is not helpful and can undo many of your family rules and consequences.

Wound tending- Many attachment parenting books talk about letting the biter help tend the wounds of the bitee- More trouble than it is worth.  Sometimes the child who was hurt will not let the child help- leading to more tension.  Or the care taking role your child wants to take is
prohibited- for example my child once wanted to provide a band-aid to
the child he hurt.  The pre-school refused to let him.  

A lot of reasoning, yelling, shaming, etc.- Keep the talking about biting age appropriate   A lot more discussion other than- "Biting Hurts, no biting."  in a clear firm, almost dead pan voice is all that is required.   Even a baby genius does not have adult empathy or rationalization skills, and yelling at them does not actually make them anything but tense and afraid- which sets the stage for (yep, you guessed it), more biting.  Also after having followed a lot of biting children in the past few years, including my own, some children are not biting out of aggression.  Often times they are biting out of love (no really- biting feels good to the biter- and so they assume it feels good to the bitee as well), or a simple desire for more personal space.

Now for the hard part-  if biting becomes a pattern 

Someone needs to shadow the habitual biter at school/playgroup and keep a log, who does s/he bite?  when does s/he bite?  what happened that day, what is the weather, what is happening at home.  Is there anyone who gets bitten more than others? Why is that? (friend who is always in close proximity, love bites to favorite people, too noisy of an environment, too many kids in one play area, not enough toys to child ratio, retaliation of aggression).

Ok then one needs to teach the other kids to help the habitual biter/hitter/scrathcer/pincher stop-
again this is a safety issue.   Many parents and teachers will resist
this step making a single child the scapegoat.  Do not let this happen!  It
is a safety issue- everyone will be safer if the kids know what to do
if they notice their playmate is getting upset.  It empowers potential
victims.  It does not in anyway condone biting (or hitting or pushing
or scratching or any other aggressive behavior).

Usually kids are taught-

Take a step back
say "No bite" (no Hit, No scratch").
put out a stop hand

This also helps teachers who may have not been paying attention to come quickly.

Books and videos you may find helpful!! (Trust me I read and watched them them all, so you did not have to!)

Book: Teeth are not for Biting! Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen 

Video: Time Out Tot, the Behavior Coach.

1 comment:

  1. Very good article! I remember one time my grandson grabbed my hand and bit me just because he was so happy and excited to see me! Definitely NOT aggression! Just keep in mind that this is developmental, as Nurse Charity said, and they WILL outgrow out!