Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Adar 5766 - March 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Careful, He Bites
by Rochel Gill

The first time it happens, nobody makes too much fuss of the affair. In a fit of exuberance or excitement, the child sinks his teeth into another child's arm. Not only do they not make a fuss of the occurrence, if he is a first child, first grandson, anything he does is funny or clever or extraordinary. The sun rises and sets with the antics of this little fellow. However, next time he does it, nobody is in the least bit amused.

In fact, it became quite a habit, which Motti practiced on a regular basis. From a sweet little toddler, Motti turned into quite a skilled 'biter.' The first two or three bites he inflicted on his two-month-old sister, at opportune times when he happened to be alone with her. "I only wanted to kiss her," he explained in his baby treble, and everybody was won over by the cute little boy.

However, when the kindergarten started complaining, things did not seem quite so 'cute' any more. The first time the teacher phoned, she stammered uncomfortably. It was difficult to protest about a child who had been the star of the class up till now. "He bit two children," she murmured almost apologetically, "and left real wounds on their legs. I would not have made an issue out of it but those two mothers are really incensed."

Motti's mother began to take notice. She warned him before he left in the morning and he promised faithfully that he would not do such a thing again . . . till next time. By now mothers accosted her personally and reported how her aggressive son left fresh bite marks on their children's limbs each day. The teacher said pensively one day that they might have to exclude Motti from kindergarten till this problem was sorted out, till she had taken him to see some specialist.

"I was really offended," reports Motti's mother. "It was like a nightmare. My darling little boy was to be expelled?" Furthermore, she was deeply hurt by the mothers who called her child vicious, and she practically begged the staff to give him another chance. They were sorry for her but insisted that she go for some professional advice if they agreed to keep him.

The psychotherapist advised her not only to look at what she thought was some deep-seated jealousy of his baby sister. Usually, she explained, biting begins at about two or at any age up to about four. However, there is probably some frustration at the same time. When a baby begins biting at much younger age, it is often pure frustration. His comprehension is more advanced than his speech and he cannot make himself understood. The phenomenon is far less worrying at this age. The child can be told clearly that all he needs to do is call the teacher. An older child, who is perfectly articulate, and old enough to identify with the pain of others, is biting for different reasons.

An occasional bite is unpleasant but not world-shattering. It is when biting has become a habit that one has to find out about the child's social skills, whether he seems worried about something whether he is unusually restless, or even whether an older sibling or parent is strained. It is possible that if a child is suffering some tension with which he cannot cope, he may bite to let off some steam. He is most likely to bite children smaller than himself.

After this introduction, how do we stop the child from biting? Firstly, the child must be told very firmly, "In this family nobody bites, not at home and not in a shop nor in the street." If this fails, punishment will have to be the next step, at the same time giving the culprit as much extra love and attention as possible. If there has been some change in the child's routine, however small and insignificant, when that is overcome, the child will stop biting. In the case of one boy, the father had been taking him to kindergarten every morning for months. Now the mother began to take him and the boy's biting career began. It was not that he didn't love the mother at least as much as he loved the father. It was just that she was more tensed up in the morning and it had an effect on the child. In the case of another child, they discovered that the building work they were having done in the house unsettled him and caused him to start biting.

It is always best to try to discover the cause and act on it without consulting specialists. On the other hand, if he continues biting and there is no way you can stop him, you may be facing something more serious and will have to consult someone who is experienced in dealing with emotional problems. Sometimes a stranger can work with a child for two or three sessions, and the problem, (not only the problem of biting which we were discussing) which loomed so large before, disappears in a seemingly miraculous fashion.


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