Sounds like teacher's over-reacting on biting

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 16, 2012 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,

My 23-month old is biting a lot at daycare, usually 3+ times a week for the past month or so. She does not bite at home. Daycare is concerned enough to want to test her for development and personality issues. She is highly verbal and highly possessive of "her" things ("Mine" may be her favorite word) and from the teacher's reports, most of the biting is usually over a toy and she usually uses her words before biting. Otherwise, she is really easy going child and while she has her moments, she is easily distracted out of them and her tantrums usually last for only 1-2 minutes.

The classroom she is in includes 10 other children, all within 3 months of her age and 2-3 teachers. She has been at this daycare since she was 2 months old and most of the children have been together the entire time.

Each time she has bit, we talk about it and I express to her the need to be "nice and gentle" with her friends. The teachers say they respond by removing her from the situation and have tried to offer her teethers.

We went to a pediatric dentist 2 months ago (regularly scheduled visit and not biting related) and he said all her teeth were in, so I do not think she is teething.

What do you think could be causing the biting? Because she is so verbal compared to her peers, could she be frustrated by their lack of verbal skills? As she is not biting in front of me, what can I do as a parent do reinforce the "no biting?" Is she too young to offer rewards/punishments hours after the biting incident (a sticker for making it through the day without biting?) What do you think of the daycare's suggestion for developmental and personality testing?

Thank you!
From: Mom of biting toddler, Boston area


Dear Mom of Biting Toddler,

Testing her for developmental or personality issues because she's biting? I This makes no sense to me, unless there's more to the story. Many toddlers bite sooner or later, sometimes only once, sometimes repeatedly, because they are frustrated by not being able to express themselves or to discharge pain from teething. But wait: author Gretchen Kinnell offers a third reason in her book about biting,"No Biting: Policy and Practice for Toddler Programs, second edition." Some kids bite, she writes, as a reaction to an inappropriate environment. Maybe the program is too unstructured and overwhelming, or not stimulating enough. Maybe she has to wait too long to get her needs met. And -- hmmm -- maybe giving her a teething toy isn't at all helpful.

I emailed Kinell for her thoughts. We're on the same page. Here's what she wrote back:

"It is not at all unusual for toddlers to bite at child care programs and never bite at home. For most toddlers, there is no reason to bite at home, but the child care setting – especially where there are 10 toddlers all working on issues of autonomy and power – is a completely different matter! Based on what the mother has said, the program’s response of giving the little girl teethers sounds like they have only a one-size-fits-all approach to biting. And that’s just not going to work.

"If the biting is usually associated with getting a toy, and this little girl usually uses words before she bites, we have to wonder if the one thing she doesn’t understand yet is that you use words to ask whether you can have the toy, but then you have to wait for the response and respect the response! This is a social skill all of us need to learn and the time most children are learning it is in the 2-4 year range. So this little girl could be in prime time for this. She literally needs adults – especially her teachers – telling her that when she uses words to try to get a toy, she has to wait to see what the other child says. The teachers may even have to ask the little girl, “What did ‘Sara’ say when you asked if you could have the toy?" If she said ‘no,’ then we have to find something else for you. Sometimes the answer is ‘yes’ and sometimes the answer is ‘no.” We so often teach children to “use words” if they want something. It gives the message that as long as you use words, you get to have the item. We really have to go on to teach them that after using their words, they have to wait for a response and respect it!

"The other thing to look at is how the adults in the program respond when she bites. The thing that makes the biggest impact on toddlers is a very clear disapproval of biting in a way that is serious but not threatening. It should be brief and related to the reason for biting, “No. You may not bite to get toys. I will help you, but I will not let you bite. Biting hurts other people, and we don’t do it.” When this kind of disapproval comes from someone the child is close to, it makes a big impression – far more than punishments (which usually only serve to make children work at not getting caught) or rewards which destroy the joy of intrinsic motivation.

"If biting is the only behavior the child care program is basing its recommendation for testing on, I’d say they are off base. The parent might want to recommend the "No Biting" book to the center. I also wrote a pamphlet for parents and families that goes along with the book. It’s also sold by Redleaf Press and came out in 2010. It’s called “Why Children Bite: A Family Companion to No Biting.” The parent or the program could also contact me by email about the specific situation and see if we could come up with some ideas to address the situation."

That's a generous offer, thanks, Gretchen!

Lastly, in answer to your other question, Mom of Biting Toddler, telling her after the fact not to bite and to be "gentle" with friends is way too vague for a toddler. Try role playing with her -- you be the one who wants what the other child has -- and use Gretchen's strategy above.

Gretchen

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1 comments so far...
  1. I agree the point that Barbara Meltz is making. It sounds like the teacher and parent both need to take some action.

    However, if I was a parent of one of the children being bit, and the biting occured more than one time, then I would not be so calm and unemotional. I would be placing pressure on the school for the behavior to stop. It is not a good feeling for a parent to leave a child in a place where that child can, or is, getting hurt. If the providers at the daycare have already tried the approaches mentioned in the answer, then perhaps they are at their wit's end and need the parent and/or another specialist to step in.

    Posted by beentherebefore February 23, 12 08:15 PM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. I agree the point that Barbara Meltz is making. It sounds like the teacher and parent both need to take some action.

    However, if I was a parent of one of the children being bit, and the biting occured more than one time, then I would not be so calm and unemotional. I would be placing pressure on the school for the behavior to stop. It is not a good feeling for a parent to leave a child in a place where that child can, or is, getting hurt. If the providers at the daycare have already tried the approaches mentioned in the answer, then perhaps they are at their wit's end and need the parent and/or another specialist to step in.

    Posted by beentherebefore February 23, 12 08:15 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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