She Says… A Biter.

Rationally, I knew this day would come, in some form or fashion.

By the time they’re in preschool, most children have bitten someone at least once, as well as been on the receiving end of an unfriendly chomp.
Babycenter.com

I mean, toddlers are toddlers. They get frustrated. They push and hit and… bite. And it’s not mean or aggressive or bullying. It’s just toddlers being toddlers.

But emotionally, when the day came (TODAY!), I was unprepared. I felt irrationally guilty (that MY child hurt someone else) and shocked (that my sweet little cuddler could lash out in such an aggressive way) and sad (both for him, that he was so frustrated he felt the urge to bite, and for the little person he chomped down on).

Owen’s teacher: Hi, Kate. I wanted to let you know we just had a little incident at school today.

Me: Ah, ok. Another one? (I was thinking we were talking about Owen jumping off of something or running into a counter and getting a big bruise or a bloody lip, like the calls I’ve gotten in the past. The kid is a bruiser.) What happened?

Teacher: Well, Owen bit one of his friends today.

Me: He did what?! He BIT them?! He has never bitten at home before. Umm, I’m so… sorry… what happened?

Teacher: Owen was playing in the play kitchen with a friend and he wanted to use the sink. He tried pushing the friend to move them out of the way, and when they didn’t move, he bit them.

Me: Oh my goodness! What do you do, in that situation?

Teacher: We treated it the same as if he had hit someone. We lovingly let him know that biting was not ok, and that he hurt his friend. We acknowledged what he wanted to be doing (“I see that you are frustrated because you want to use the sink”) and offered him words to explain his frustration, rather than actions. He comforted the friend with us and could tell they were sad because of what he had done. It’s completely developmentally appropriate and is something we will continue to work on with Owen and his friends.

We went on to discuss tactics we can use at home to curb this behavior and help him express his frustration with words rather than actions. Despite knowing how normal this is, man, I felt overwhelmingly guilty.

Huh.

So MY KID is the biter.

I didn’t really know how to react. When I called Benjamin after hanging up the phone with Owen’s teacher, I couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t know, maybe it’s like laughing at a funeral. I felt emotional about what had happened, but I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do. So I laughed.

I take comfort in Babycenter.com once again:

Many preschoolers bite once, get help with it, and never do it again.

This article has some great suggestions on how to react when your kid is the biter.

One thing I can definitely do immediately is stop “play biting” at home. When I’m putting Owen in his pajamas at night, I often play at biting his feet and “eating” him all up. He thinks it’s hilarious. He giggles until he can barely breathe. He’ll often ask for my elbow (he thinks elbows are hilarious too) and pretend to bite it. I pull it away, mostly out of fear that he might actually bite me, but it has turned into a game. And Lord knows he bites when we floss his teeth. But this article (and a particularly hilarious Modern Family episode) notes that even play biting can encourage kids to bite in other situations. See? Guilt. “I did this to him!”.

We’re going to work on it. While I know biting is not ok and is something to address with Owen in a variety of ways, I can also see, quite clearly, that it is just misplaced emotions. Here’s hoping we can get those emotions expressed in different ways, though. I don’t want to raise a bully!

Has your child acted aggressively toward another child? What did you do? What did the other child’s parent do? Generally I tend to be more in the “leave kids alone to figure out how to work things out” camp, instead of intervening at every turn. However, when hitting and biting are involved, I think I need to take a stronger approach.

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12 responses to “She Says… A Biter.

  1. My sister became the biter…at 3! Oops. They forced a pacifier on her, but I don’t think they do that these days.

    We play bite Hannah too–I had never thought about that leading to her actually biting, although she does sometimes bite my toes, and I haven’t had the heart to stop it because it seems so hilarious. Hmm. It may be time to end that, huh?

  2. I have never play bit my kid. That seems too….canine? I mean, I don’t even let the dog mouth me. :)

    Woof.

  3. I tend to tickle instead of play bite, but I have nibbled at his toes in order to make him giggle instead of scream during a diaper change. But already, at 11 months, I see him lash out when he gets frustrated. He has taken to biting things, particularly the furniture. It seems like it’s part due to teeth and part due to try to help himself get traction to pull himself up to standing against our taller, soft furniture. But he has bitten me many times, sometimes absent mindedly other times in frustration. He also smacks my face hard when he’s angry I’ve picked him up when he wanted to play with something he shouldn’t be. I say “gentle” and “no biting” but I think he’s a little young to get it just yet. So far no incidents at daycare, but I worry that he has his mama’s temper!

    Hopefully this is a one time incident and Owen will get over it. It’s great that your daycare is understanding and handled it so well.

  4. It is SO hard … I can’t blog about it for several reasons (though I wish I could!!) but my daughter has been bitten at least three times by the same child at daycare in the past two months. (We’re not supposed to know who did it, but we do know). The kids are friends, and he doesn’t do it on purpose but rather as Owen did — to get what he wants. I am dreading the day we are on the other side of the coin because I can tell you, it’s hard either way – -for the parents of the kid who was bitten (two of the bites were big and lasted two days – one on her hand, one on her face) — and for the parents of the biter … they feel awful, too. We don’t play-bite with Maya and we are hoping that will prevent her from doing it but it is, as our daycare director said, “unfortunately an age-appropriate behavior when they lack the communication skills to fully express themselves.” What we do is try to keep the two kids apart at school but they will always be in class together because of their age. Teachers are trying to keep a better eye on the biter, but it isn’t something they can say won’t happen again. Hopefully for Owen it will be a one-time deal … but be warned, it may not be. :( Good luck and good job trying to catch the behavior now, before it gets worse!

  5. @lissa10279, Ohhhh this makes me so sad! I can imagine how hard it would be to be the parent of the bitten one. I actually asked the teacher if I could reach out to the other parents to apologize/discuss/empathize/SOMETHING, but she said because of confidentiality she can’t tell us who it was (you know… unless they read my blog…). I totally feel for them and I don’t want Owen to be thought of as a bully or not invited to playdates because he’s a “mean kid”, but I totally see how they might feel differently. It’s impossible not to get emotional when your child’s safety is involved. Yuck. Hope this “stage” passes soon. Sorry Maya is on the bitten end!!!

  6. Aw thanks .. we totally hold no grudges — we understand it’s “age-appropriate behavior” buuuut it’s still hard to stomach, seeing your kid with big boo-boos! We only know because his parents are our good friends and it has come up in conversation — but we aren’t supposed to know, either!! Hopefully he will only do it once and that’s it! And thanks ;)

  7. My first son was the “bitten,” and my second is the biter…and he bites BAD (I could have guessed since he was the one I had to stop nursing after a year because he bit ME so hard!). It’s usually out of excitement and rarely anger. But it peaks during bouts of teething, and at just 2 now (please finish your molars, kid!), I am hoping with increased communication skills he will reduce the biting. I agonized over the first time he bit. He had not done it at home, but did it at school. I sent out an e-mail to all of the parents apologizing, and expressing how we will talk about it at home, and we made sure he was age-appropriately dealt with at school (exactly what you mention above.) Parents were understanding, but I still feel awful when I find out it happens…as it still does from time to time.

    And when he has bitten at home (he just bit his older brother’s behind 2 days ago when horsing around, and it made a HUGE bruise!), we immediately and always say “Biting HURTS! Ouch! Mouths are not for biting.” And then after we make sure no blood was shed, and we take him away from the situation (usually to a quiet chair.). I do ask him to say “I’m sorry” after he’s had some quiet time. I’m not sure if this is recommended or not, but even if he doesn’t understand the concept completely, I figure it’s a good habit?!? I’ve tried the extensive talking and explaining, but I think at the age he was really biting (between 1-2), the shorter, sweeter, more impactful message has worked better. As he gets closer to 3, and if he still bites, I am going to try to do more explaining. Maybe even get a book on it?

    You are not alone! And having been on both ends, I can say it really is awful either way!

  8. Liam had bit ME before! (NOT COOL) I don’t think he’s does it at school, but he’s definitely been on the receiving end. It seems they are just at that age. Ugh Lots of tantrums in our household lately, and L expresses his anger by throwing things. Awesome

  9. There was one kid at our daycare when Olaf was little who was super aggressive and bit another little girl multiple times. Her parents were MAD as he** and wanted the little boy thrown out of daycare. (kids were old enough to tell parents what had happened, so confidentiality wasn’t easy). Well lo and behold about 6 months later the little girl got mad and bit my son, two days in a row. Luckily I really wasn’t mad about it and Olaf was fine, but it was kind of fun to watch the girls parents stumble over their words as they tried to apologize/justify it :). Obviously, they said, their daughter would never have bitten Olaf if she hadn’t been bitten already… :). Olaf never did bite anyone else, though that didn’t stop him from wacking kids on the head with books and toys, or shoving them out of playhouses… I wasn’t sure what to do about that behavior either and I felt AWFUL that he was being mean… But we worked through it and he is almost 4 now and hasn’t had a problem since before he was 3, so I think he has grown out of it. I think they all do as long as we actively parent and teach right behavior from wrong, which it sounds like you are doing well!

  10. Eli got bit once. Apparently I was way nicer about it that most other parents. I worked at a preschool… I know it happens.

    Eli has yet to be aggressive to another child, but I know it will happen. He did, however, attempt to hit ME a couple of weeks ago. He was angry that I wouldn’t let him stomp on some pretty flowers. I told him that hitting is not okay and it hurts and I made a sad face. He tried again and we had another (very) short discussion and then he turned around and hit the wall. I was okay with that. He needed to get the aggression out somewhere. He hasn’t tried again.

  11. I just want to say: Your kid is not The Biter. He’s bitten someone once. I would not get my hopes too high for it to never happen again. But I also wouldn’t be too worried that he will do it a lot. I know you already know this, but you used the The Biter language several times even after quoting the helpful websites, I just wanted to say it again.

    A- had about three incidents where she bit someone, spread out over about a year. And hasn’t since. Another kid in her class was The Biter. He bit everyone including teachers. His biting phase went on for about a month or so. We knew which kid it was because all of the kids would talk about “D- bites” all the time. But, then, suddenly as it began, he replaced biting with with kissing and hugging and all of the kids talked about how “D- kisses” all the time. So, even being The Biter doesn’t necessarily mean indicate a path to iniquity. I found (and continue to find) this incredibly reassuring.

  12. Oh, and I also wanted to say: I so so so totally get your feelings of unpreparedness and guilt. We knew it was coming. We had plenty of friends whose kids had already been through the Year of Biting at Daycare. We knew that kids this age just do this. It didn’t change the shock or guilt.

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