Friday, July 22, 2011

The Bite Box: Dealing with a Biting Child

I try to come up with creative solutions to problems that arise with Jane. One of the issues we had was biting. 

Who knows why one kid bites another kid? But more importantly, how do you get the little savage to stop? As a parent, you are absolutely mortified that your little cherub would bite another child, and you're almost encouraged to hear that other parents have wrestled with the same problem. But I never seemed to hear any good solutions, just got shrugs and "Oh, she'll grow out of it."

All these Children are your Friends. Take good Care of your Friends.
Somewhere around Christmas, in an effort to curb the occasional biting impulse, I started referring to all children as "Jane's friends." Any time we went to the playground, we were going to see "Jane's friends" that she hadn't met yet. I would remind her that we take care of our friends, we protect our friends, and we never ever bite our friends. 

It seemed to be working, and I was incredibly relieved and happy that she was past the biting. But then... Fat Tuesday came.

Fateful Day
On Fat Tuesday, I took Jane to the My Kids Clubhouse to play. She loves that place. We made a Mardi Gras mask together and she got some beads that she was really proud of. She was playing so nicely, that I almost thought it was some other kid that suddenly started crying in the distance on top of the slide. But no. Down came Jane with tears in her eyes and a long face, and right behind her was a beautiful Japanese girl who was about four, crying with equal force.

I asked Jane what happened.
"Hit," she said between sobs.
"She hit you?" I asked, almost puzzled.
"No. Jane hit." Great. Jane hit the girl. Well, at least she's honest.
"What happened then?" I asked her. 
"Bite," Jane tells me matter-of-factly.
No. No, no no. Please tell me no.
"Jane, did you bite that little girl?"

Just then the girl's mother pushes her sleeve up to revel a bite mark that rivals any dental impression I've ever seen. I am mortified. Seeing the teeth marks in her arm, the little girl howls in pain and indignation. I cringe, and take Jane by the hand to the front desk.

"Um, what do you do when one child bites another?" I ask, holding Jane in my arms.
"Oh, we do not tolerate biting. Is your girl OK?" the lady asks me, concerned and sympathetic.
"Oh, my kid's fine. She was the biter. But are we, like, banished or anything?"

The woman blinks at me. I don't think she's ever had the parent of the offending child approach her first. "Um, well, she can't bite other kids..." she stammers and seems at a loss as to what to tell me.

"Well," I say to the woman as much as for Jane to hear, "Jane made a very bad choice biting that girl. We have to leave now, and we won't be coming back for the rest of the week. It's too bad, because Jane really has fun here. But Jane made that choice. "
I turn Jane towards me and tell her, "Jane, you'll have to give up your mask," and I start to remove the Mardi Gras mask from her face as she starts to whimper. "And the beads." 
"No. Jane's beads!" she protests.
"Jane, I'm sorry. You chose to bite that girl, and now you don't get to keep those things." 

Jane is unsure whether to be sad or angry, but gives up the beads without too much fuss. Now for the hard part. Still carrying Jane, I go to the offended little girl still weeping in her mother's arms. Her mother has been soothing her in Japanese. 

I tell the mother, "Please tell her this and make sure she understands," I turn to the little girl, "Jane knows it's wrong to bite. I'm taking her home now and she will not get to come back all week. She had to give up her mask - she's not allowed to keep it. And she had to give up the beads too - she can't have those either..." 

As I'm telling her this, the little Japanese girl stops crying and Jane starts to cry. I realize that in my making amends to the little girl, her healing begins with a little justice. Jane, on the other hand, is starting to feel the consequences of her own actions. I tell Jane to tell the girl she's sorry, and Jane signs "I'm sorry" with her fist making circles over her heart.

I apologize profusely to the mother, and again to the girl, and Jane and I go home. Once home, I decide more instruction and evidence of consequences is needed. 

But how can Jane have a concrete reminder that biting is bad, and what can I do to make the consequences stronger than the urge to bite? This is when I got the idea for the Bite Box.

The Bite Box
I took a large clear plastic box with a lid, and drilled holes on both ends so that it might be sealed with zip ties. I told Jane that the next time she bit anyone, her favorite toy and the toy she was playing with would go in the box. It only took a couple days before she lost her temper and bit me.

I have worked very hard to be like the Judge in the courtroom who looks down at the delinquent and says, "Young man, I am very sorry to have to do this, but you have brought this sentence upon yourself. I hereby sentence you to blah blah blah..." The kid almost thinks the Judge wishes he didn't have to be so harsh, and is reminded that he is there entirely by his own actions. I really try to give Jane consequences, so that she chooses to do the right thing not because she's afraid of making me angry, but because the right thing is so much easier and more pleasant in the long run. The consequences of her actions are often punishment enough, and my anger only detracts from the lesson.

So, after I got over the surprise and pain of Jane biting me, I very matter-of-factly said, "Jane you know what happens when you bite. I'm really sorry you made that choice."
She giggled, not knowing what to expect. 
I sighed in sympathy, and told her, "You have to give up your trains for a few days."
She was confused. 
Then I took the Bite Box into her room and started loading it up with her trains. She began to protest and cry. I told her I was sorry, but that she had made the choice to bite, and when we bite, the things we love go away.

I set the Bite Box at the entrance to the house where Jane would see it every day, any time she passed by. 

I made a little face on the box with big teeth, so Jane would be reminded why the toys were in the box and locked up.

Once the three days were over, Jane got to help cut off the zip ties.

We only had to use the bite box three or four times. Thankfully within a few weeks, Jane stopped biting. 

I think the box might now become the "Backtalk Box." More on how that works out later.

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