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Archive for September, 2016


Kyle D. Pruett, M.D.

Why does a nearly universal event in a child’s development evoke such strong feelings? Odds are – as children we were either a biter or a victim – and often both. Plus, biting hurts and frightens us a lot. And though we know aggression is a normal part of development, regular cruelty is not, and we fear the connection between the two.

Some thoughts to help us manage:

* When children first bite, it is often their mother while breast-feeding, and their motive is most probably curiosity – not aggression. Mothers should send the following message to their infant: “Ouch, no and if you bite, you lose the breast – end of discussion.”

* Biting often begins as exploration, but may be quickly associated with out-of-control feelings or feelings of being overwhelmed – with excitement, fear or curiosity. Parents should manage these feelings by staying as calm as possible and firmly saying:

o “No one likes biting, especially me.”

o “You just cannot bite.”

o “I’ll help you stop until you stop yourself.”

* Parents often fear biting at school most. Peers, especially close ones, are fascinated by each other’s aggression, and the dramatic reactions it evokes. Adult overreaction just makes things more exciting! Experienced teachers have radar for when ‘the chompies’ are in the air and become particularly vigilant.

* If all adults involved in a biting incident are convinced that it was not an isolated but willful, premeditated event, both children should be kept safe. Adults should explore the language of what went on and be able to offer alternative responses.

Finally, it bears stating – parents should never bite children back. Believe me, I understand the impulse, but all you accomplish is establishing mutual violence as an acceptable value in your family, embarrassing yourself, and degrading the natural authority you have with your children. They want your help with this stuff, not your indulgence.

Kyle D. Pruett, M.D. is an advisor for The Goddard School®. Dr. Pruett is an authority on child development who has been practicing child and family psychiatry for over twenty-five years. He is a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale University’s Child Study Center.