How it feels to be the parent of a biter & suggestions that worked for us…

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

Let me know what you think in the comments, or come find us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I’d love to know your thoughts, suggestions or experiences.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. We too have a biter, although he’ll more often bite his own hand than other people. But yes, it has happened before, and it would probably happen more often if we didn’t avoid situations where it would be more likely to happen to the degree we currently do.
    As you say, in the heat of the moment there’s not a great deal to do (except avoid escalation). If we have something at hand which he’s allowed to bite, like a chewy for example, I can hand that to him to divert the bite and still give him the needed sensory input. But he won’t think of grabbing a chewy himself at that point, he’ll bite who or what is closest at hand, so we need to remind him (”Here, bite this!”).
    For prevention, you’ve highlighted a good few points here. I also think it seems to help if his nervous system and his body in general is ’in good balance’. For example, that he’s not getting hungry/low blood sugar, which will make him more likely to react badly to any irritation (hey we all get more likely to snap when we’re angry, right?). Also sensory ’balance’, for example I try to make sure that he gets a lot of proprioceptive input. Not only to keep him more balanced in general, but also to decrease the physical need/urge to bite.
    Often these things help, though there are the odd days when nothing really helps. We all have crappy days sometimes, coming down with a cold, not slept well, or just irritable for no obvs reason… 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Thanks that’s really helpful to read. I agree about physical balance-J gets ‘hangry’ haha. I try and give a good ‘sensory diet’ which definately works at home x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sending so much love to you, you are doing all of the right things and with time he will get there xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Aw thank you. We have up and down times but one day I hope these can be funny stories to tell him when he’s older x

      Like

  3. beautifully written as always lovely lady. he will get there

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Thank you Hun. It’s therapeutic to just get it out there x

      Like

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