This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Toddler Tips - biting

I worked in childcare for many years. When we first started talking about adopting, I assumed I'd be adopting at least one toddler/preschooler. Obviously that didn't happen, but I still have all this acquired knowledge gained from training preschool teachers in behavior modification.

Daycare/ preschool teachers have a lot of the same issues as foster parents, like having to balance too many kids with issues (in TX the staff to child ratios are outrageous. You can have 11 two-year-olds with one teacher. 15 3-year-olds and 25 4- and 5-year-olds... add a second teacher and the numbers are even more outrageous.) Of course, teachers also can't spank and around here have to meet what Texas calls Minimum Standards just like foster parents.

I had offered to do a behavior modification training to our adoption agency when our adoption was final, but I think they were just ecstatic to see the back of us. We had so many issues with our kids during the adoption process that the agency couldn't handle.

Developmental/Emotional Age
I do have to say that in a lot of ways my teens are not all that different from toddlers, especially in how we discipline.

Someone asked me for advice on how to deal with a biting two year old, and I put a lot of thought in my answer so I figured I'd share it with you. Like I already mentioned, these discipline methods apply to my kids in a lot of ways - especially when you're looking at their developmental/emotional age, or what happens when they are in "fight, flight or freeze mode."

Toddler Biting

Two is way too young to expect empathy (understanding and caring what other people are feeling). While we can start teaching them to use their words for things like sharing, they won’t understand it yet. Empathy usually begins around age 3.

Toddlers usually bite for one of several reasons:

1. They are having trouble communicating with words. Toddlers often get frustrated because others don’t understand them, so they use their teeth or their fists to get their point across. As their vocabulary increases the violence will decrease.
Response -  Try giving them the words they need. “He took your toy. You’re mad. Say, ‘Give it back, please.’” Sign language can help too.

2. They enjoy the reactions. When they bite, interesting things happen. Adults get all excited, children make cool noises, people run around… It’s like a cool toy that doesn’t need batteries and is always with them.
Response -  It helps to minimize the caregivers reactions – stay calm. Soothing the injured child and ignoring them in the meantime (except to make sure everyone else is safe) often helps.

3. They’re bored. Try to keep them engaged and active, without being over-stimulated.
Response -  Timeouts don’t work well for those under three (although they’re better than spanking) so redirection is one of the best ways to handle negative behavior and avoid it. Another thing that works well is keeping them close to you with things like time ins and shadowing (they're your special helper and stay within reach or holding your hand or pocket).

4. They’re overwhelmed. 
Response - Try to avoid over-stimulating situations -- too many children, too loud, too many toys, high expectations, too much going on... Keep things simple and quiet. Multiples of toys (so they don't fight over a particular one), but maybe only pull out a few toys or one activity at a time.

5. It’s habit.
Response - separating them from other children and remove the opportunity until they learn other things to do.

6. They’re teething – this is a time when molars start coming in. Oral fixation - according to Freud, this is the first psychosexual developmental stage
Response -  Baby teething toys and chewlry, especially ones kept cold are great to redirect the child to – we’ve even kept one on a pacifier string so the child has it with them at all time.

7. HALT - They’re tired, hungry, or sick. Even my children still act out when they are experiencing one or more of these. All you can do is avoid these.

Toddler Discipline Techniques

Some possible solutions:

1. “Biting back” which is sometimes recommended by well-meaning people, may seem to work, but only because they are learning to be afraid of you. It’s like spanking. They don’t learn why not to do something they just learn fear.
2. Timeouts don’t work well for those under three (although they’re better than spanking) so redirection is one of the best ways to handle negative behavior and avoid it. Timeouts don’t have to be sitting in a corner, at this age they can be put in a playpen, crib, high chair, or just separated from the others. Give them toys or books or something to do.
3. We often use “time-ins” where the child must stay near a caregiver at all times until we’re sure they are safe. They benefit from the extra attention too.
4. Redirection is just like it sounds, finding another activity for them to participate in and help them get engaged in it. If children tend to fight over a specific toy(s), having duplicates available is a big help.
5. If kids react to overwhelming situations (restaurants, playgrounds, parties…) with violence - avoid it if at all possible. Try to be proactive and avoid situations you know lead to biting.
6. Lectures don’t work. I recommend limiting your words to one word for year of age. Two year olds, “No Bite!” or “Walking feet.” Three year olds, “Use your words.” or “Feet on floor.” You get the idea.
7. Try to stay positive instead of negative. “Use walking feet” instead of “Don’t run.” “Chairs are for sitting” instead of “Don’t stand on the chair.” “We use our mouth to talk, kiss and eat” instead of “Don’t bite.”
8. Set up situations so you aren’t constantly saying No. Put away things toddlers need to stay away from (like knick knacks, older kid’s toys, white chairs…).


Miz Kizzle said...

My eldest son had a biting streak for awhile until he bit the dog. That stopped it cold.
And "Use walking feet" is the funniest thing I ever heard. it sounds like something you'd say to an space alien.

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