I was happily singing the last verse of the hymn when my eye alighted on a determinedly crawling baby reaching out to grab the ‘treasure bag’ my 13 month old son was engrossed in. I leapt to my feet – too late! With the steely glint in his eye that I had recently come to recognise, my son sank his very new and very effective teeth into the offending hand. The young lady let out an ear blasting scream, the congregation turned, the vicar faltered and the bitten baby’s mother had a panic attack, screaming almost as loudly as her daughter!
She scooped up her baby and rushed sobbing into the kitchen area. Mortified, I followed. I apologised profusely, admonished my son (who stared balefully with a “well what was I supposed to do?” kind of expression) and helped her run her daughter’s hand under the cold water tap.
Biting is an extremely effective way of getting someone to drop what ever it is they are trying to take from you, as recently demonstrated by the footballer Luis Suarez ! I was amused to see that there was the same kind of debate about how to punish Suarez as there often is about how to stop children biting. “Bite him back!” was the advise I was often given, but being of the view that hurting a child only reinforces the idea that younger, smaller people are fair game, I think the banning of Suarez from what he enjoys and what pay’s him, gives a very clear message that biting people is unacceptable.
• Take heart – biting is often short lived. It feels like forever, but 3 -5 months is about the average time that a ‘biting phase’ lasts.
• Once it starts, be prepared to watch your child like a hawk for the next few months. You will come to recognise the signs, slight change in the body language, glint in the eye (yes, really, parents with biters out there will know what I mean!) and then unbelievably speedy lunges which are very hard to stop! With practice you get better at it!
• Resign yourself to the fact that you will come across quite strong reactions from people, who will demand you hit or bite your child and ask about tetanus jabs and HIV. Those who have been through the process themselves (and believe me there are many of us) will be pleasant and understanding about it. It’s catching by the way – once bitten themselves children will often pick up the habit for a while!
• Breath out, stay calm, keep your body relaxed so your child doesn’t pick up any angst from you and focus on the hurt child rather than waste time and breath telling your own child off. Be attentive, sympathetic and concerned about the bitten child, go over board in fact, and then, when things have calmed down, gently remove what ever it was your child was trying to grab or hang on to and give it to the bitten child. Even if your child had it first and there was some justification, your message needs to be that biting (or any form of hurting other people) is an unacceptable way to behave under any circumstance.
• Avoid big long explanations or lectures, shouting or admonishments. Calm decisive action will very clearly show that the behaviour was unacceptable and that biting has consequences.
* If your child bites you, give all the attention to the bite and looking after yourself, running the bite under cold water, rubbing it to show you are hurt so the focus is on the healing. Your child will probably watch with interest as you do to yourself the healing, soothing things you would do if s/he was hurt. Then make sure that whatever triggered the bite is carried through. So if the child didn’t want to go somewhere s/he still has to go or if s/he wanted something, s/he still can’t have it. Remember it is the biting that is unacceptable not the child. The deed is not the same thing as the doer. We are always loveable and acceptable human beings, it’s our behaviour that needs to change sometimes.
• Uncle Bill ‘s philosophy – “Ask yourself will they still be doing it when they are 21? If the answer is ‘no’, don’t worry about it!” With possible exception of Suarez, it’s a safe bet that most adults are unlikely to bite!
By Janthea Brigden