Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ouch! Biting (still) Stinks


This post is an oldie, but a goodie and can never be said enough!

There’s no way to make this sound cute: Biting stinks.

Biting stinks, however, it is a fairly reliable step in children’s development. I could set my watch to it.

My daughter came home with a bite last week. I momentarily saw red. When I was a teacher in a toddler room a few years back we had at least 3 children who were active biters, and a solid 6 pinch hitters. We tried everything from shadowing children (this is where a teacher follows a child) smaller group sizes, crunchy foods, re-arranging the room, seeking expert help, and even shifting kids to other classes. We devoted a tremendous amount of man and brain power to the issue. We documented our days and saw that we had significantly more biting attempts then actual bites. Go team!  Even still, in our darkest hour, I passed out 9 oops forms in one day. I felt like a huge failure as a teacher. It was powerlessness at its best (worst?). Every time I shared an oops report for biting to a parent, I felt an awful sinking in my stomach. The faces of the parents on both sides of the aisle reflected a mixture of shock, confusion, sadness, sometimes anger, but ultimately a sense of hopelessness as well. And then, slowly but surely, it stopped. What happened? Did that 18th round of “biting hurts” finally sink in? Did I earn my angel wings? Nope. They got older. It’s like magic.

There are many reasons why kids bite, and none of them are because the kid is “bad” or their parents (or teachers!) didn’t do the “right” thing.  In fact, they may be looking for space, attention, that super cool toy, mimicking behavior, or even as simple as teething. The list goes on. Babies grow into toddlers... with independence, attitudes, wants, and yes, teeth. They often cannot yet talk and can only access their most primal emotions. Even if they did have a name for what they are feeling, they have no real way to express it. Multiply that by 12 kids, mix it up, and you have a perfect environment for biting.

Dr. Harvey Karp, author of Happiest Baby on the Block, argues that the first step in dealing with young kids is to accept this simple fact: toddlers are neanderthals. As I watch my one year old grunt and ball up her little fists in anger, I know this is a metaphor I can get behind. This doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel and take cover until they are 6. It means that when a child bites, we can say "this is a neanderthal, I'm not going to take it so personally." Our job as parents and educators is to learn how to communicate with our little cavemen and do our best to keep the neighboring cavemen safe. We acknowledge the child’s emotions and give them words for what they are feeling. We arm ourselves with lots of hugs and ice packs. What we don’t do is exclude a child. We remind ourselves, “It is not their fault. They, too, are suffering the pains of growing up.”

So tell us what you think. Have you had to deal with this yet? Has your child bitten? Were YOU a child who used to bite? Have you seen those tell-tale marks on your kids? Tell us how you got through it. Let this be a safe place where we can give each other support and a light at the end of the toothy tunnel.

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