How to handle biting

Posted by Samantha on February 22, 2012 in Biting, Telling the truth |

There’s no doubt about it, the article on biting on the Supernanny website is very good (you’ll also find a link to the article at the end of this one).  In fact, it’s excellent in terms of explaining why biting might occur.  It’s also good (but not excellent in my opinion) for suggestions on how to deal with biting.   And like so many really great articles on parenting, it’s got that all important ingredient: empathy for the parent reading it.

In my opinion, what’s missing from the article on biting, is the suggestion to extend the empathy which is offered so freely to parents, to the children who the parents are seeking to help.

In a biting situation empathy might sound like this:

“I can see and I really understand that you were so frustrated / overwhelmed / scared / excited that you bit.  But biting hurts and it’s not ok.”

The key is that the empathy MUST come BEFORE the education.  I can still fall into the trap of trying to educate before I empathise.  But children are far more likely to LISTEN if they feel LISTENED TO.  This is how people work!

It will be easier to handle a biting situation if you focus on your child and not on the disapproving parents.  The child who has been bitten can be comforted by their parent rather than you.

Incidentally, the comfort a parent offers a child who has been bitten is essentially empathy by another name.  Most adults tend to offer empathy quite naturally in a situation like this where they think that a child has been “wronged”.

When dealing with biting the emphasis is better placed on empathy for both children, followed by appropriate education about what each has done “wrong” (personally I much prefer the language of “not OK” rather than “wrong” because it’s gentler).

Education ought to extend to the child who was bitten too.  What were they doing before they were bitten?  Perhaps they need to hear that pestering / teasing / being too close to another child is not OK.

The Supernanny article mentions that from a parents’ perspective, one of the worst things about having a biter is the shame you feel about it.

It is intensely difficult to deal effectively with a situation when other parents are over-reacting and throwing some heavy disapproval your way.  And on top of that, there is usually a lack of acknowledgment that your child may have been pushed into biting, by the bitten child’s anti-social behaviour.  That may cause some feelings of injustice to be thrown into the mix along with the shame.

All in all there’s a heady mix of emotion flying around in a situation like this!

I would like to encourage parents to be truly authentic in this situation and to speak up for themselves and their child.  I believe that in a biting situation it is still ok – in fact I would go so far as to say that it is essential – to be on your child’s side.  Yes, your child has bitten someone and you hope it won’t happen again.  It does not mean that your child is naughty or that you are a bad parent.

How about finding the courage to say that that you are not finding the disapproval remotely helpful?

How about pointing out (as non-accusingly and non-defensively as you can manage!) that there was a reason why your child bit and although you know biting is not ok, you understand why it has happened (e.g. he was being teased) and you’d appreciate a bit of compassion for you and your child in this situation?

If you’ve not been present when the biting occurred, how about asking what the nursery / school is doing to handle the behaviour of the child who provoked / prompted your child to bite them?

It isn’t easy to speak up for ourselves in this way if we’ve not been in the habit of doing so.  In fact, we may be unable to imagine ourselves saying anything remotely like this – yet.

But I believe that this kind of response in a biting situation is reasonable, and adult, and authentic.

I am sure that it will be helpful for our children and for ourselves if we can find our courage and our voices and speak up for what is right and true: that all parents and children deserve to be treated with respect and compassion.

Click here to read the Supernanny article on biting.

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