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February 5, 2014

The Daily Parent: When your child bites: It's not your fault

The memory is still fresh: I take my daughter to her pediatrician for her 18-month-old checkup, and he asks me, “Any hitting, kicking or biting?” Just like that! I thought, “This man is a genius! A mind reader! How did he know I was about to bring that up?”

What followed was a discussion about how toddlers her age, up through preschoolers, frequently talk not through words, but through physicality. If another child grabs your child’s toy, he or she is just as likely to reach out and hit, slap, bite, kick or scratch as to say, “Excuse me? I was using that. May I please have it back?”

But in this world of aggressors and victims, there are some children who cross over between groups, and others who steadfastly remain in one group or the other. All are developmentally “normal,” even though the behaviors of one group lack the social acceptability of the behaviors of the other. It is equally difficult for the parents of the biters as it is for the parents of the bitten. They feel mortified, while the parents of the victims feel outraged. No fun for anyone!

When you put young children together to socialize, they will do what comes naturally at their age and stage of development, and for the child who resorts to physical expressions of frustration over verbal ones, it is our job as teachers and parents to shape and redirect those behaviors while also not stigmatizing the child who bites because he or she has fewer language skills, a quicker temper or the typical low impulse control that characterizes this age group.

No parent enjoys seeing his or her child come home with a bruise or scratch or tooth marks. If this were happening between second-graders, my reaction would be much different than when it happens between 3-year-olds. It would be a completely different behavior if perpetrated by a 7-year-old, and I’d recommend that all adults involved be quite concerned and tenacious in following up on how best to handle the situation.

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