Repercussions of a Biting Child

My son, Seth, is a biter. I can’t say this is entirely surprising given that I was one myself. Apparently I started sometime after 2 whereas Seth started just after his first birthday. Seth is now a couple months shy of 2 and after about 8 months of trying to change this behavior I sometimes wonder if we’re any closer to a solution than we were when it all started.

The issue with biting is that it can cause more harm to other children than any other common form of toddler acting out. The triggers for it are generally the same as those for pushing, hitting, and other toddler misbehavior. Generally, the toddler is upset about a situation – someone is playing with a toy he wants to play with, taking the attention of someone whose attention he desires, or generally inhabiting a space he’s deemed fit for him. The toddler reacts with his impulse and ouch, the other child is hurt.

This all can happen over the course of a couple of seconds so it can be very difficult to prevent even after the child has been discovered to be “known biter,” and until it’s happened a few times no one’s even looking for it. However, once it’s been, found you and your child will be invisibly marked with a scarlet B.

Your child is the biter and you’re the parent of a biter, and that is how you shall be known. I can’t speak too much to the psyche of the parent of a child who’s been bitten several times by your child (although Seth has been bitten a few times himself I clearly have a different perspective as a father of a biter), but I can take some educated guesses here. It seems they are consumed by the raw emotion of seeing their child hurt (there has been some broken skin but no one’s had to go to the hospital for this – just to give you some perspective). I can understand this but I wish they’d step away and think about it with a bit of empathy for our plight when they’ve cooled down and see that their child is fine and will heal. Based on what we hear from Seth’s teachers it does not seem that this ever happens.

So if this is you and you’re reading this (or just curious I guess) here’s what it’s like. As the parent of a biter you constantly struggle with trying out new ways to potentially “solve the problem.” You research for hours every time it happens trying to glean every possible reasoning behind it and how to instill in your child that it’s not acceptable behavior. You try to understand his triggers and how to avoid them. If your child doesn’t bite as often or as hard at home because the situations that bring it out of him don’t exist at home (i.e. there’s not a cadre of children running through my house sharing toys) you think of how you might be able to bring it out of him just to reinforce the discipline he receives from his teachers at home. And when you’ve done all of these things you start trying a few new things with the realization that in all likelihood none of them will work and he will probably “grow out of it” (what does that mean? I think it means they mature emotionally and have enough empathy to realize the harm it’s causing and stop and/or you can employ different disciplinary measures that work on older children to finally get them to stop).

In addition to all of the work you do trying to “solve the problem” you spend a tremendous amount of time feeling terrible. You feel terrible for the children being hurt by your child and their families. You feel terrible about your parenting ability because surely you should be able to stop this even though it’s considered common and normal in this developmental stage. And you feel terrible because you’re being ostracized as you and your child are never invited to various play dates and birthday parties. For some, including my parents when I was younger, you lose friends. In most pre-schools/daycares (fortunately not ours), your child is eventually kicked out and your life is completely upended.

So as the title of this post indicates there are many repercussions to having a biting child but they’re generally not felt be the children. Despite what many parents of children who’ve been bitten may think, most biters are and will be fine. There’s nothing wrong with them, they just act out in a way that can be much more harmful to other children than your standard pushing and hitting. And fortunately even the bites that break skin usually won’t scar. Only the time spent by the parents during this period of their child’s life will have any lasting impact.

One thought on “Repercussions of a Biting Child”

  1. I too was the father of a biter. There were difficult moments to be sure. My wife, a practicing social worker consulted with everyone … doctors, behavioral counselors, teachers, and other parents. We were told to look for triggers to the biting behavior, watch him closely, be consistent in your messages to him, reinforce what is working, hug him more, hug him less … and on and on with well meaning advice … even the suggestions that contradicted the previous ones.

    Some people … mostly friends without children, or those with older children, or those who had children but not not in the same pre-school class or child care home with our son, were very supportive. Others, primarily those who had children in the same pre-school class made us feel like we were doing a poor job parenting. I’m sure this was not their intent but that was the effect. You ask yourself, why is my child not being invited to an afternoon play date or birthday party (as far as I know this didn’t actually happen very often if at all but we thought about this often). You ask yourself, don’t other parents understand that this is normal behavior for children in this age group? Don’t they realize how their actions impact our child? Don’t they realize how making more of an incident of biting than is called for does more damage to their own child than the bite itself? Don’t they realize how their actions hurt … really hurt?

    One day a neighbors child received a bite from our son. It was worse than most bites because it was on his face. Our neighbors were understandably upset and we felt horrible. The father of the boy who was bitten, perhaps out of anger but perhaps channeling what he truly felt , shouted at us that our son had real problems and would one day need to be in a special school. Our friendship ended that day.

    I’m happy to say that what seemed as simple as waking up one day, we found that our son had outgrown this phase. There was no more biting. He grew up to be active in sports, a musician, a singer-songwriter, and eventually did find himself in a special school … a top 10 university where he earned a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Science and now works for a start up company in Silicon Valley as a software developer. He has enormous heart and a beautiful soul. He is caring, loving and an absolutely fantastic father … of a biter.

    My grandson will also outgrow this phase and all will see what an absolutely beautiful boy he is.

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