Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Dec 11)
A CONCERNED MOTHER recently reached out to a large virtual support group of fellow moms to seek advice regarding a distressing incident involving her young child. She described all sorts of challenges that commonly face working moms today, from the adjustment involved in heading back to work to all-important considerations regarding child care. But at the heart of this particular discussion was a subject that I have long found to be of universal interest to parents and others who take care of young kids: biting.
The virtual response this mom got to her tale of woe was impressive: Hundreds of other moms weighed in, sharing their own biting experiences, insights and frustrations. As I’ve found over several decades interacting with young children and their caregivers, biting can become the bane of a parent’s existence – whether you’re upset your child has been bitten, or the frustrated parent of a biter.
To tackle this issue, I’ve found it most useful for everyone involved to step away from the particular situation at hand – at least for a moment – and start with a clear understanding of what biting does, and doesn’t, represent.
The best way I’ve found to explain it is that biting happens to be the least socially acceptable of all of the predictable and developmentally normal behaviors of early childhood. The thought of one child trying to take a bite out of another child has come to be perceived as far more distasteful than, say, hitting, pinching, pushing, kicking, shrieking or any of a whole host of less-than-desirable toddler behaviors. There’s something about the discovery of a human bite mark on one’s child that parents find especially disturbing. However, a young child’s predilection to bite both friends and foes isn’t abnormal.