Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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Home and Family
By the Skin of their Teeth -
How to React When Your Child Bites and How to Prevent This

by Menucha Fuchs

(author of dozens of books for adults and children, parent counseling guide)

One of the problems parents have trouble solving is that of biting. A child who bites immediately commands attention. From then on, he is labeled as `bad' and his actions are described in various derogatory terms. This is confusing for him, since he is denigrated and related to with anger.

Biting can take place at a very early age, even several months, but it is also a common phenomenon among nursery school children aged 3-5 years.

How can we avoid this occurrence? How should we react when it happens in our family?

1. Biting by infants -- as a result of teething

A distinction has to made between infants and older children. Infants bite when they are teething, since it helps them reduce the irritation. We must tell the baby in a firm way that the bite hurts, that it is not allowed and that it is unacceptable [important for nursing mothers!]. Even an eight month old infant can understand this, if we explain it to him. But this is not enough. The baby is suffering and we must supply him with substitutes such as special teething rings, toys, bagels etc., or special ointments available in pharmacies.

Often, we can prevent a child from biting if we keep an eye on him (this is basically important for other reasons also). If he seems angry, tired, nervous, and we give him substitutes, he won't get to the biting stage.

Babies learn a lot by putting objects into their mouths. They discover the world by biting and tasting, and sometimes they taste and bite things that are forbidden. For this reason, we should supervise our children and prevent this from happening.

2. A child who bites is dissatisfied

A bigger child who bites (even though he understands everything and knows it is not allowed), is a good child who feels bad. He is not a bad child. And this is the mistake many of us make. When he bites, we jump on him, "No! That's not allowed! Bad boy! What did you do? Did you see what you did to him? Why did you do that? Do you know what they call someone who bites?"

All these reactions are the opposite of what we should do. A child who bites is unhappy and desperately needs understanding. He needs empathy for what he did. Just as the child who was bitten needs caressing and someone to calm him down, the child who bites needs the same thing. He didn't really mean it and often regrets it right away. He is simply a small child who couldn't overcome a bad impulse.

The division between good boy and bad boy, between the biter and the bitten and the judgment we pass on each one, makes us classify the children. The biter (who perhaps did this only once), is the bad boy whom we already expect to continue on this way, while the bitten child is the poor one who deserves sympathy and whom we have to protect.

If we can understand that the child who bites is not a negative human being and we relate to him like that, there is a good chance that he'll stop acting in a negative manner. In this way, we can avoid labeling children.

Our reaction must be a caress and an expression of love to both children at the same time and guiding the child who bites so that he can overcome his impulses.

In order to help a child control himself before he does something which is prohibited, we must provide him with other possibilities for letting go. This way, if he very much wants to bite or to hit, he can do this to a doll or some other object which is unfeeling, or even better, "Try to express in writing, or by drawing a picture to show what is bothering you, what is burdening you, or the reason you wanted to bite your brother." If we say this to the child, with words he can understand and also be available to hear what's on his heart, he won't get to the point of biting.

Many children who bite, do so in order to get attention from their parents. We won't give them what they want when they behave this way. We'll show them that we pay attention to them davka at other times. We'll caress the bitten child and hold back our anger at the child who bites, while we search for a different way to relate to him. Sometimes the biter is a child who is lively and full of energy. We'll have to find a suitable way to speak to him. Sometimes, to our amazement, the biter is quiet and introverted and we'll have to find an appropriate way to relate to him, also.

When a child knows that he is being watched and we relate to him even when he is not doing anything unusual, he will try to behave in general.

4. Encouraging the biter to change his ways

It is very important to encourage the child who bites -- in other areas, of course. If a child bites often, we find moments when he doesn't bite, and even though he is angry, we'll praise him: "I saw you were very upset. Maybe you even wanted to bite, right? But you overcame it. That's wonderful! I'm happy you know how to control yourself." Or, "How pleased I am that in our house there is no biting, that my children are capable of controlling themselves."

A TIP -- The Biting Game

A child who was never bitten doesn't know that biting hurts.

If a child bites his parent or a sibling aggressively, the parent can quietly take him on his lap and ask him in a caring manner: "Do you want to play the biting game?" It's enough for the parent to bite the child, not even strongly, for the child to learn. It is important for the parent to control himself and not say: "You see, you deserve it!" He should rather say something like: "Alright, I see you don't like it, so let's decide not to play the biting game in this house, O.K.?"


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