Written by Doctor G

How do I teach a bitten kid not to bite?

My daughter Haley is in daycare and has been bitten twice by other children within the last month. How do I teach her that it’s not ok to bite others when it’s happened to her?

Tess in NYC, NY

A: At first I thought this was a question about biting, but after a moment’s reflection, I see that’s not really the focus. The question is about fairness.

From the biting issue and the daycare, I’m guessing your daughter is 2 or 3, maybe a little younger. That is the age at which biting is most prevalent in normal, no-there-is-nothing-wrong-with-child-or-parent kids. Don’t get me wrong, it is terribly distressing to get the call that your child got bitten. It’s so primal! And actually a little dangerous if the little heathen broke skin.

Antibiotics aside, however, preschool kids bite in anger, frustration, even excitement. My darling two year old bit my pregnant tummy in glee when he finally got me to take him in the swimming pool one day. No, I did not drown him, but the child was terrified by the sound I made and looked at my belly distrustfully for weeks.

So kids this age bite. And kids this age need to learn that biting is not acceptable. Teaching our kids to learn from the mistakes of others is a fervent dream of most parents. Using others’ poor behavior is a great way to teach kids without needing to inflict guilt or remorse. If she is in daycare, she is already learning to learn from the behavior of others – to emulate what is positively reinforced, avoid that which gets a negative reaction.

I am wondering if your fundamental question is, “How do I teach my daughter that life isn’t fair?” The answer to that is, you don’t have to. Life experience will teach her that not all is equal, in fact precious little is. I’m sure you already know that.

If you’re actually asking, “How do I protect my daughter from the fact that life isn’t fair?” then my answer is “You don’t.” Protecting our kids from life truths doesn’t serve them well at all. In fact it promotes a generation of kids who are at once bewildered (“It isn’t supposed to be like this”) and entitled (“Well that doesn’t apply to me!”).

So when she gets bitten teach empathy instead. “That hurts! I’m sorry that happened to you. That is why biting is not OK.”

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