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Making It Work

Toddlers Who Bite

From: NEW BEGINNINGS,Vol. 21 No. 1, January-February 2004, pp. 18

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My baby stays with a very breastfeeding-friendly caregiver while I work. She's been wonderful about feeding and caring for my baby the way I want her to. She has other children in her care, however, and yesterday, a toddler bit my baby! I'm upset and worried now about my baby's safety-but I know it would be hard to find another caregiver who is so loving and willing to feed my baby my pumped milk. What have other mothers done when things like this happen?

Response

Any biting situation is very distressing and overwhelming. Your child's safety is paramount. First, evaluate how the situation was handled and if there are other safety concerns beyond this situation. How did your caregiver respond? How did your caregiver communicate to you and to the other parent? How old is the toddler who bit your baby?

My first child was the biter at about 18 months of age when any child got into her personal space and she couldn't communicate. I was mortified to find myself calling another mother to apologize. However, both the other mother and my child's caregiver were understanding and supportive. We worked together and supported each other as we talked with my daughter about how to handle scenarios when people got too close. We helped her to say "no," to walk away, and to ask for help. Within a few months, this behavior was gone.

My second child was the "bitee" and I was much more understanding since I started with the reverse scenario. I believe that even with the most diligent supervision there are no guarantees that something like this will not happen. I remember the frustration and embarrassment that I couldn't solve this and I could not guarantee my child would not bite again. Also, I realized that this was a phase, and that it would pass with patience and guidance.

Cynthia Hoftiezer
Arlington VA USA

Response

Remember that soon your baby will be a toddler and may have a biting problem, too. These things happen and while you don't want your child to be in harm's way, I am sure your wonderful caregiver will be all the more cautious now and watch the toddler who bites.

Unless you can stay at home with your daughter or hire a nanny to watch your baby, it might be hard to find someone who doesn't have other children under her care. You have to do what is best for you and your child, but I would simply talk to your caregiver about your concerns, especially since she is so supportive of breastfeeding. In the end, however, you have to go with your instincts.

Angela Bonzani
Yuma AZ USA

Response

How wonderful it is to have someone taking care of your child who is supportive of breastfeeding! Breastfeeding-friendly caregivers are sadly few and far between in this day and age.

I understand your concern about the safety of your child. However, as long as there are other children around, your child stands the chance of being bitten. It's not the toddler's intent to hurt your baby-it's just a developmental phase that many children go through. Frustrating and upsetting, of course, but totally normal. I know I was upset when both of my children went through this phase! What's more, neither one had ever been bitten, so it wasn't a matter of having been taught the behavior. It just happens.

It's certainly within your rights to sit down with the caretaker and express your concerns and ask her how she plans to try to prevent this from happening again. Even that's no guarantee, of course. But between knowing that your child's caretaker is doing her best to protect your baby, and that she's also being supportive of another child going through a difficult time, I think you'll probably be more comfortable with the situation, both now while your child is an infant and when she's an older toddler with different challenges of her own. Good luck!

Sandra Mort
Baltimore MD USA

Response

I remember vividly the horror of turning around in a playgroup to see a two-year-old sitting on my six-month-old, pushing his face into the floor. I also still feel angry when I recall being accused of "raising a bully," by a woman, whose son I babysat, because my very young toddler had a tendency to hit other children on the head.

Obviously, you want your baby to be safe. But also remember that in a few months your baby could be the biter. The calmer you can be in sharing your concerns with your child's caregiver (and the toddler's parents if necessary or appropriate), the better.

If the other mother had raised her concerns with me calmly, I could have assured her that when I was alone with the boys, I stayed nearby and watched very closely, so that I could intercept my son quickly if it looked like he was about to hit. Instead, I felt defensive and was more focused on not losing my temper than addressing her very valid concern.

You might begin by letting your caregiver know how wonderful you think she is and why. Then express your worries about the biting and ask her what she thinks can be done to protect your baby. Perhaps she has a gate she can use to keep them separate. She probably also can tell you more about the toddler-if the biting is a frequent, predictable problem or if it was the first time the toddler did this. The answers might help you come up with solutions together.

It sounds like you have a marvelous caregiver. I hope you find some solutions to ensure your baby's safety and your own comfort. Best wishes!

Katharine Wise
Frostburg MD USA

Response

I would not worry about a one-time occurrence. My advice is to talk to your caregiver and ask that she keep a very close eye out over the next few days. Toddlers sometimes go through a biting phase when teething. If the child is helped with the pain from teething, the biting may decrease or be eliminated all together.

However, if the toddler is biting other children often, or it happens a second time to your baby, I'd ask the caregiver to keep your baby away from the biter. Perhaps the biter could temporarily stay in another area or room?

My children have been both biters and bitten. Human bites are serious if the skin is broken, but usually the problem is easily resolved.

Lyla El-Safy
Norwalk CA USA

Response

I always feel so helpless if something happens to my baby when I'm not there. I usually think, "If only I had been there, this would not have happened." But when I stop and think about it, I know that I cannot control everything. I cannot protect my child from everything, even when I am physically present.

The real situation is whether you've made the best choice you can. It's important to be able to trust your caregiver to make good decisions while you are not there. The only way to be confident is to learn how the caregiver handles the situations that come up. Is the biting incident a limited one, or do these types of things happen all the time? If they happen frequently, if your caregiver is not doing commonsense things to safeguard your child, then you might want to rethink your options. If this is a rare occurrence, just one of those things that can happen despite the best vigilance, then I don't think you need to worry about it.

Debra Rosenberg
McAllen TX USA

Response

Recently, at my co-op preschool, I witnessed a toddler bite a nearby boy. I was right there and couldn't stop it because it happened so fast and unexpectedly. I felt terrible for the child who was bitten, as well as shocked and angry. I expected to see this boy removed from the class, but the teacher, with five children of her own and years of experience, explained that this was part of learning communication skills. She explained, as a mother of a biter, how frustrated both children probably feel, and how sad the mothers of both children would feel. The next day at school, guess who were fast friends? Those little boys. It was a big lesson for me.

Christina Neumeyer
Carlsbad CA USA

Response

What a shock it must have been for you to learn your baby had been bitten by a toddler while in the care of someone you have come to value, trust, and depend upon. I salute your quest for a solution, your appreciation of your caregiver's many fine qualities, and your concern for your baby's safety.

After spending a day with his dad and his new family, my toddler was eager to reunite with me. As he nursed peacefully, I discovered teeth imprints from his hostess' toddler on his forearm. I was so angry and stunned at the overwhelming power of my initial feeling. Using every ounce of self-control, I asked my son's father what had happened.

As the circumstances were explained to me, I mentally reasoned with myself. That same biting toddler often visited our home, too. I had to admit, even though I monitor known biters closely, my son could have been bitten under my own nose as well. That realization helped calm me enough to insist on even better supervision.

It is always an act of trust to leave our children in the care of anyone else. Although we may hate it, especially for our beloved children, there are and will be many instances of injustice, indignity, and injury to be faced. Many of these events we learn about only afterwards. How we wish we'd been there to have prevented it, to have guided our children through it, or at least to have comforted them on the spot.

If it will make you feel more comfortable, you can request that your caregiver keep the biting toddler at a certain distance from your child during this biting phase. The temporarily intense investment of time and attention can pay off for all concerned-especially the child who bites.

Susan Johnson Blake
Valrico FL USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 24, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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