Our children’s behavior can be inconvenient at times—even downright embarrassing! Please… don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. I know you get it… I saw how you acted at Publix the other day when Junior was running along the top of the aisle throwing cans at innocent shoppers. Oh… sorry… maybe that was someone else. Anyway, it’s never fun to hear that your angel acted aggressively at daycare, especially if they were biting their playmates. If this happens to you, though, please relax. With that in mind, please keep three things at the top of your mind.
- It’s completely normal. Well, it is as long as your child isn’t 23 or something.
- It’s important for us to change the behavior, and
- There’s always a primary trigger that causes it and a reason why it’s happening.
If we can focus on the third point, find the trigger and the reason for the frustration or anger that leads to biting and interrupt the cycle several times, we can eliminate the behavior.
Statistically, virtually every child who makes it to kindergarten has been bitten by another child and has done the biting herself. Very young children are simply not capable of regulating their emotions by themselves—the hard-wiring in their little brains isn’t yet complete. Of course, this could be argued for adults—even our two presidential candidates, as of this writing! I’m not sure if we can help either of the candidates, but we can almost always help our kids get past this.
Did you ever notice with your two year old how small triumphs are so incredibly exciting, and also how relatively minor disappointments are utterly devastating? Contrary to what I used to think, they’re not being overdramatic; that’s truly the way it is, in the reality of their little world. Okay… let’s do it this way. Imagine that you are a small child. Your little head reaches to mom’s mid-thigh. Standing close to her, you have to look way, way up to see her face. It’s a giant face, but you love it and it’s part of your solution to everything! You aren’t yet developed enough to even identify situations or circumstances, but your life’s experience has made it clear that when you’re in need, the thing with the giant face helps.
And… at two years old, “want” feels exactly the same as “need.” This is a critical point. It helps us understand how far our two year old is willing to go to correct things when she thinks they aren’t right.
Anyway, hmmm, what’s that up mom’s nose? You are really, really thirsty, so you tell her in a conversational tone as you tug on her skirt. You know the word… it comes out something like “tersee” on a good try, but more often, something like, “ers-ee”. You try to get mom’s attention forever… almost 9 seconds, but she’s texting and doesn’t make it right. So you tell her, “drink”, but it comes out, “ink”, a lot louder and more insistent. Mom finally looks down at you, but she has the mean look and says, “Shhhh. Let Mama finish,” and goes back to texting. The overwhelming pain of your thirst—it’s been 40 minutes since you had apple juice—is driving you to be frantic, so you scream “oosss,” at the top of your lungs. Mom say’s, “Just a minute, baby,” as she works to finish up her 15 second text. In full panic mode and desperation—‘cause you’re sure you’re gonna die of thirst in the next 4 seconds—you “stop, drop and roll,” while screaming, “ers-ee, “oosss” and “ink,” hoping mom will finally save you!
Finally, mom figures it out and gets you something to drink. Even though you’re not cognizant of it, you file away the fact that, when you’re thirsty, communicating with your mom by rolling around on the floor and screaming for what you need seems to always get the job done.
The process for biting is very much the same. Johnny has my favorite toy. I want my favorite toy. I try to take my favorite toy, but I can’t pull it out of Johnny’s hands. Not only that, Johnny’s a tough little country boy two year old and he hits me on top of the head with the toy. I still want the toy. I grab it again and try to wrestle it from country Johnny’s hands. Dang, he’s strong. What’s keeping the toy out of my hands? Ah… it’s his hands! How can I get his hands off my favorite toy? Both of my hands are full. Hmmm… I can bite his hand while I pull on the toy, so I do! At last! I have the toy and toddle off to enjoy my time with it.
Your child has an overwhelming feeling: anger, frustration, unhappiness… that he’s not getting the attention he needs, anger over a stolen toy, anxiety from too much noise or feeling crowded, a wet diaper… you name it. Add in the fact that he is unable to communicate quickly and concisely what she feels with words, and something’s gotta give.
So you bite. It’s instinctive, and it’s got an excellent track record of working for you. The other person will definitely be paying attention to you, and will know that something is going on… or he’ll dang sure let go of the toy! Success!
As a parent, there are several things you can do to help your little one learn not to bite. If the incident happens at preschool, ask your child’s teacher to give you as many details as she can about what happened. Don’t expect for your child’s teacher to tell you the name of the other child. It’s important that she protect all the children in her care. Even so, what was going on immediately before the incident? Was your child hungry? Tired? Ill? Involved in playing with other kids? Was it noisy? Crowded? Was the classroom in transition to or from the playground? Was this a contest of wills over a toy? Answers to these questions can help you and your child’s teacher formulate a plan to minimize, and eventually eliminate this behavior. Enlist your child’s teacher as a partner in solving the problem and be sure that you have a clear understanding of next steps.
At home, talk to your child about using words to express themselves. “Use your words!” is an important request, instruction and, as needed, imperative. Help your little one practice managing their emotions and provide them with appropriate words to use when they want to communicate anger or frustration. Two years old is an excellent time to being working on coping skills with your child—even if he can’t yet say the word!