In my Grandma’s day curing a small child of biting was real simple. I can still hear Gram’s voice saying proudly, “Ever’ one of my young-uns was a biter. I only had to bite em back one time to make em quit!” And then she would add with quiet resignation, “Cept for Jimmy Ray, had to bite him three or four times ‘fore he got the message…. hard-headed, that one.” As far as I know, not one of Gram’s 6 children suffered ongoing trauma from those bites and from all outward appearances, they became successful, well-adjusted adults – even Jimmy Ray.
Unfortunately, these days, Grandma’s homespun discipline could get you arrested. As effective as her cure may have been, I knew there had to be a better way (sorry, Gram).
As I researched the current conventional wisdom on the biting issue, I found that the consensus seems to favor three main methods for dealing with a child who bites:
- When a child bites, tell them in a calm, but firm voice ‘no bite – that hurts’ and then remove them from the situation.
- Let the child know that biting behavior is not acceptable by instituting appropriate consequences, such as withholding a favorite toy for a short time or placing him on time-out for one minute for each year of age.
- Give the child a substitute item to bite, for example, a chew-toy or a damp washcloth.
These suggestions are probably great if you’re only interested in accomplishing behavior modification, but they lack an important element that was present in my Grandma’s method. There is nothing in these suggestions that actually teaches empathy to a child. You have to give Grandma her credit on that score; nothing breeds empathy faster than actually feeling the pain you have inflicted on another person. I needed to find a way to bridge the positive lessons of the ‘old school’ with the more humane actions of the ‘new school’.
So I continued my research and Eureka! I discovered a book called “Teeth Are Not for Biting” by Elizabeth Verdick. It is a 24-page board book for preschool ages that not only teaches how to understand and change biting behavior, but also helps the child to understand how this behavior affects others. Nearly all of the reviewers from the experts to providers and parents found this book to be extremely helpful in eliminating baby and toddler biting behaviors. I think Gram would approve of this one.
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image via Night Time Helper Blog