Help! My Kid is a Biter! (Hitter, Kicker, Pincher...)



The truth is, even good kids do bad things; and there’s a very good reason for it. It works.

The nuances of how it works depend on what context it happens in. I am going to break it down for you, which hopefully sheds some light on what you can do to make it stop—or at the very least, decrease the frequency.

First and foremost, determine that it’s a pattern. One bite in isolation does make a pattern of behaviour; if it only happened once, you likely aren’t at the point that you’re googling: “HELP! My kid is a biter!” This is important because kids often engage in exploratory behaviours (biting/mouthing/pinching/etc.) with no real purpose other than to give it a try.

Assuming you’ve noticed a pattern, here is what you do—the recipe is the same whether we’re dealing with hitting, punching, pinching, kicking, biting, etc.

1. Recognize that behaviour is communication. What is your child trying to say? In behavioural school of thought, every behaviour serves a purpose; there are 4 primary purposes for behaviours—remember the acronym SEAT. S-sensory behaviour: I do it because it feels good E-escape/avoidance behaviours: I do it because I want to escape something (I’m scared and want someone to go away, I don’t want to do what was asked of me because I don’t feel like...eating broccoli, doing homework..). A-attention behaviours: I do it because I want attention! (Remember, young kids often don’t discern between positive attention and negative attention) T-tangible item: I do it because I want something (a popsicle, a toy...)

You’ll figure out what your child is trying to communicate by appraising the context. This will take some finessing, don’t get discouraged.

Examples

If you were in the grocery store and your child asked for a lollipop, and you said no and she bit you, you can gather that she is trying to get an item (a lollipop) and is thinking “how about now? Now can I have it? How about if I do this? Or this?”

If you were about to get your child undressed for a bath, and you said “bath time” and your child bit you, you can gather they are trying to escape/avoid the bath.

Hopefully you get the idea. If not, email me. Like I said, appraising function takes some trial and error and requires you to consider behaviours as a pattern, not in isolation. Might I add—don’t try it when you’re mad. You need some distance to get perspective.