At the time of writing this I had just signed another incident form at nursery. Yet again, my son had bitten someone. There’s a mixed emotion when you are told this. Half of you is waiting for it, the other half is crushed it’s happened again.
There are a lot of positives about J. He is clever, funny and his Star Wars knowledge rivals even adult fans. However, he also has a lot of sensory and social difficulties. Most of the time these are supported by adults or through strategies he’s learnt over the last year. There are times though were J struggles or there’s no adult nearby quick enough to assist him in regulating his behaviour. J has bitten children and adults, and at home it’s usually me who is the centre of his venting.
J knows it’s wrong. He knows it’s not how he should deal with situations. He can tell you or show you with his symbols what he should have done instead, but in the heat of the moment it all goes out the window. You see, biting is a primal instinct. It’s an ‘in the moment’ reaction to his emotions. Biting is a physical way to show his upset and he gets temporary satisfaction from the sensory feedback he gets from the sensation. He doesn’t consciously decide on biting someone, he doesn’t plan when or where. His bite will be to whatever body part is closer and whoever has upset him/angered him.
However, when you hear that your child has bitten it’s easy to forget all that as you get bombarded with emotions. For me it ranges from anger (that he’s got to that stage without appropriate intervention or the situation itself), upset (I hate the idea of the internal struggle he must be having), grief (for the child who is perfectly behaved and doesn’t bite), guilt (for feeling the grief and wishing my child was anything other than who he is no matter how temporary that thought was), worry (what will the parent/adult think of my child, will they want to have a go at me, will children stop wanting to interact with J?) and frustration (that this keeps happening).
It’s a rough ride for both parent and child. I can’t lie, despite time moving on I haven’t learnt to feel less of any of those feelings, but I have begun to let them pass over faster. I find out as much about the situation behind the biting and what can be learnt from it. Is there a resource to help him understand or express himself differently, is there a professional who can help, is there something the setting/provision can modify to support, can I adapt a situation/routine at home to help etc?
Here’s some of the things that I have put in place:
-Emotions board: This is a simple picture based chart showing the emotion and strategies J can choose from them to help deescalate himself. Obviously if J is too far into the anger or upset mode then it may be too late to talk it through so it’s a case of allowing space and sensory outlets.
-Reduction in language: there’s no point trying to talk to him during a meltdown. He wont listen and he wont be able to process it, and he certainly wont be able to verbalise himself. Use just the key words, avoid negatives such as ‘no’ (red flag to a bull comes to mind) and worry about talking through the event till later. At this stage just be there, support and give key info only.
-Supervise and recognise signs: Most times J’s behaviour and emotions can be modified before it reaches biting. It’s very rarely out the blue. If adults are supervising and watching out for the situations we know are likely to create the issues then we can get distractions in timely. This may just be redirecting play, finding more resources, being there to help J find the words to tell the other child what’s wrong/his needs.-Ensuring space: J does not do well in crowds. Even small ones. He will feed off the sensory input, mirror behaviour and actions (not always understanding them or knowing if they are appropriate or not) and is more likely to struggle. When we are out and about I try to choose places where J will have space or at least position ourselves to create a space J doesn’t have to share. This can be use of the buggy with the hood down, it could be having J by the door or avoiding places/times we know aren’t suitable. At soft play an adult will always be with J to ensure he has space and can find spacious areas. We go when it’s quiet.
-Change of routine: I know that if J has had a busy morning or a very ‘sensory overloaded’ few hours that he will need time to get over it. Same if we are going to have a busy afternoon, then I know we need a quiet morning. I try to give J ‘down time’ before transitioning to anything eg: between finishing playing and going to bed then we have a structured board game. It’s still fun and playful but it’s bridging the gap between freeplay and getting ready to rest. These changes have really helped as we find the issues from the day don’t spill into the next day and we start afresh.
Obviously these haven’t been a ‘cure’. But they have helped with reduction of biting especially at home. Sadly, it’s still more regular than I’d like in his nursery settings (J attends both a mainstream and an SEN setting) but I know it’s a lot more of a sensory bombarding setting than home, and it’s not easy for them to have an adult directly available for J at all times, and of course children are unpredictable so in a room with up to 20ish other children there’s bound to be issues. Same with soft play, you can’t book the whole place to yourself (tempting) and you can’t always rely on parents to be monitoring their own children so again, issues will occur. I always bare this in mind-environment has a lot to do with emotions.
I know J’s biting is not because he’s naughty and I know it’s not my parenting. That doesn’t make it any less embarrassing or frustrating. However, keep the cycle of ‘why is it happening’ and ‘what can we do to support him/her?’ going and you can hopefully reduce them or at least understanding/explain them better. To any parents of biters…you are not alone x