Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Once Bitten Twice Shy

Last week daycare had to have "the talk" with us.  We were on the other side (the bad parent side..womp, womp) of those infamous incident reports because the boy has been biting, and pinching, and hitting, and clawing his classmates.  We asked for suggestions, and were told 1) Talk to him about it and explain why it's probably not the best idea to play slap face, bite face, or fingernail face with other children and 2) redirection.  At home he gets a three to four minute shift in the penalty box for unnecessary roughness along with a stern lecture- at daycare they don't play by hockey rules, apparently.  They also said that there isn't much you can do at this age because he's still so young that he doesn't fully understand.

This weekend he bit his oldest cousin.  Yesterday morning at daycare drop off he ran into the playhouse and immediately smacked a little girl right in the face.  Her older sister yelled, "Don't hit my sister!" and belted him back.  It was glorious.  Chris and I not so secretly cheered her on, because we're big fans of playground vigilante justice.  Then at pick-up last night  I found out that he bit and scratched his ECE worker.*  They asked me to trim his nails.  I'm beginning to feel like a giant A-hole every time I drop off and pick-up the minions.  I'm scanning the room to investigate whether or not Cujo has attacked that day and caging bets on who his next victim will be.**

Cujo Sr. & Jr. Together Again

When I was a child my brother was a biter.  He would sink his teeth into my sister and I like we were a steak dinner.  Being ten and five we knew that you shouldn't bite your little brother, even when he was being an ankle biting jerk.  Family legend has it that one afternoon my mother was talking to a friend about the problems she was having with my brother Cujo Sr. and the friend explained how her children had stopped their younger sibling from biting by taking an arm each and biting back the biter back really hard to "Learn Em, Real Good".***  Apparently that kid stopped biting.  So, my sister and I took notes that day and the next time our little brother bit us we rolled up his sleeves and bit him as hard as we could.  My mother discovered this tooth mark surprise at the doctor the following day while Cujo Sr. was getting his shots.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have tried biting him back (lightly) and saying, "See it hurts".  Unfortunately he thinks it's hysterical and I'm not willing to take the game to the next level.  Molly isn't old enough to do the job for me, so I've written a job ad for what I need.

Does anyone know any four-five year olds, who take instruction well who will want to bite my son and teach him an important lesson, preferably without scarring him for life (physically and emotionally)?****  Alternately I could employ my brother for a whole cycle of life themed lesson regimen.  Maybe I can further entice him if I play The Circle of Life on loop while he's babysitting.

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*Way to directly bite the hand that feeds you buddy.
**Likely whoever is playing with the train set.
***I am fairly certain that none of my mother's friends are Larry the Cable Guy, but I'm going to run with it.
****I fear that children under four won't take instruction well and those over five may be missing teeth which will rob Jack of the true biting experience.


  1. Both our boys were biters! And yep, I totally chomped them back. Hard. I left marks in their arms. But it worked!

    Love the playground vigilante justice! We are big fans of that too. Too bad there are a few bat-shit crazy parents that ruin this for everyone! :)

    1. I may end up biting the boy back, hard...only time will tell. There seems to be a direct correlation between over-tired and tooth time!

  2. From a behaviourism perspective (which is the only perspective I'm able to take these days now that I'm in this program!) would tell you to analyze what happens *immediately* after Jack bites. Does he get adult attention (in the form of someone lecturing him/telling him no/picking him up/etc)? Does he get a preferred toy (because the kid he just bit ran away crying and dropped the toy he wanted, etc)? Does he get something else? If you take data on it you could find the pattern, and then stop giving him whatever he receives by biting (i.e. if it's followed by attention, even lecturing, ignore him completely; if it's followed by him getting what he wants, make sure he doesn't get it). Of course the daycare would have to be on board with this procedure for it to really be effective...

    You'd also want to provide him with whatever is maintaining the biting behaviour at alternate times so he doesn't feel the need to bite to get toys or attention or whatever else.

    Lecturing very young kids doesn't really work because even if they have the capacity to 100% understand what they're doing is wrong and they shouldn't do it, if it's the only behaviour they know how to emit that will get them their desired reinforcer in the easiest way, they will continue to do it.

    "Punishments" like biting back, etc., may be effective only because the child learns to avoid emiting the undesired behaviour in the presence of whoever bit him, but still do it at other times and in the presence of other people if it's still getting him what he wants.

    It's hard when they're so young, though, because to make it effective you want to teach alternate behaviours to him getting what he wants, which in cases like this would be communication training... he is biting because he has learned that it "gets" him something in his environment, since he doesn't have the words to ask for whatever it is he needs yet. You could start by going out of your way to give him whatever it is that's causing the biting (attention/toys/food... once you figure it out) at alternate times when he's not biting, at a very high frequency... and make sure he doesn't get those things when he bites, and that should start to make a difference.

    You can also take data on what happens immediately *before* the biting - did someone take his toy, is he overtired, hungry, does it only happen in the afternoon, in the presence of certain people, etc? That will help you identify ways to change his environment in order to prevent the conditions that cause biting in the first place.

    "Punishing" without teaching a child alternate, acceptable means to get what they want often results in worse behaviours... because you've just taken away their only method of "communicating" that they want something so they have to come up with another one, like screaming or pulling hair... they will just keep trying stuff until something works, and then THAT becomes the new problem behaviour.

    1. Yeah - at home I notice that the hitting gets worse when he's tired. And if they fight over a toy they generally both lose it. At daycare I have little control and there seem to be prime targets who steal his toys. I may have to have a meeting with them if this continues because I know consistancy is so important with this. I can only imagine how frustrating life can be for a toddler! Thanks for your feedback!

    2. And by his toys, I mean what he's playing with.