Becky Bites

“Becky bites”, the three-year-old said, holding out his arm as evidence. Sure enough, there were the teeth marks, substantiation that he had indeed been bitten.

“Did you tell the teacher?” I asked, hoping he, in response, had remembered to use his words, an important if not easy, milestone for every child.

He nodded yes as his eyes filled and the tears began trickling down his cheeks. This little one was a gentle soul and I suspected his tears reflected upset that his friend had attacked him as much as a reaction to the pain of being bitten. “And?” I questioned.

“She bit Becky and Becky cried.”

Here we were in the middle of a situation where the adult failed to use her words, reacting in an inappropriate manner. The tasks at this point for any adult who finds her or himself in a similar situation include:

1. Comforting the child who was bitten. Often this may also involve some talking although the amount should be geared to the age of the child and is generally a lot less than most of us do. Talking should cover some or all of the following:

a. Acknowledging the child’s feelings which may include anger, sadness, fear or others.
b. Validating the child’s positive behavior of using his words
c. Commenting on the inappropriate nature of both Becky and the teacher’s behavior.
d. Validate that telling you was a good, correct, maybe even courageous decision.

2. Come up with an approach that will help the teacher and the children in the class from this day forward. This will vary, depending on the situation, but what is true is that biting represents a loss of control by the adult (just as Becky lost control), and that the teacher’s behavior constitutes child abuse. As a result, it has to be addressed.

Why do children bite? First most toddlers try out the behavior at some point. Perhaps they’re teething. Perhaps they’re over-tired, or over-excited. Perhaps they’re frustrated, and don’t know how to use their words to rectify a situation. So what should happen?

  1. Stay calm. Loss of control on the part of the adult only reinforces the idea that it’s acceptable to act out of frustration.
  2. See if you can figure why and respond appropriately. If teething, give a substitute to bite on, along with the words, “we don’t bite people.” If frustrated or some other emotional/physical feeling is at the base, correct and suggest an alternative behavior. Separate the children if needed.
  3. Once you have an idea where the behavior is coming from, correct the situation before the child makes or repeats the mistake. Say something like, “Oh, I see you want that toy. Let’s use our words to ask for a turn.”
  4. Once a child bites, pay closer attention so you can prevent future biting. Biting can be a guaranteed attention getter and we like to head off situations where the attention is negative.

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