How can I handle a 5-year-old who bites?

Smart love - April 2006


The Piepers

Q:I am concerned about my granddaughter. She is 5 years old and sometimes when she can’t have what she wants, she bites. My daughter responds by yelling and threatening to bite her back. Sometimes, she actually does sort of bite her. I’m upset with both of them. I believe my granddaughter also is biting other children occasionally. Can you tell me what causes children to bite and how to respond?

P.W., Chicago

A:Children bite as a way of expressing anger and frustration when they feel talking about the problem is ineffectual. They need help to see that their concerns can and will be heard. When a parent bites back, it just teaches the child that biting is an acceptable response.

Prevention is the best strategy. Watch the child and keep her teeth at a distance when she is upset or frustrated. If she does try to bite, your daughter should hold the child and say, "If you are angry, you can talk about it, but you cannot bite me." In this way, your daughter is modeling a better way to handle frustration. It is crucial, though, that she listen in an understanding way when your granddaughter talks about her anger or frustration. This will help the child develop outlets other than physical aggression.

Biting other children is a more serious problem because other children are unlikely to deal with it the way an adult can—and may actually be bitten. Hopefully, if your daughter responds differently, your granddaughter will stop biting. If she doesn’t, professional help may be required.

How can I stop other parents from behaving badly?

Q:What can we do about parents who are loud and abusive at sports events? We have a sixth-grade son who plays basketball and one or two parents of players on our team, and parents of players on other teams, set a bad example. These parents cheer when the other team misses a free throw, yell at the referee when he makes a call they don’t like, call out coaching suggestions and yell at our team’s mistakes. Our son says these outbursts make him uncomfortable. Ideas?

W.H., Evanston

A:Youth sports increasingly are less about having fun and more about performance and resume building. Some parents have responded by getting too involved. Ideally, parents who attend games will demonstrate the kind of sportsmanship they would like their children to develop. For example, they clap for a good play by the other team, refrain from criticizing players, coaches or referees and maintain a good humor even if the team loses or their child doesn’t play well.

When parents treat youth sports as though they were being played by adult professionals, there is not much you can do by yourself.

We suggest you go to the athletic director of your son’s school or of the sport’s league and ask if it would be possible to hold a meeting for all parents. There, the coaches and athletic director can lay down guidelines for parental behavior at games.

If the parents of your son’s teammates adopt more sportsmanlike manners, it will be easier for him to ignore parents from other teams.

Keep in mind though, that as his parents, you are your son’s most important role models. If you give him the message that your goal for him is to enjoy the game and that he doesn’t have to play well to win your love and approval, he will most likely adopt your viewpoint.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors That Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline That Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.

Kids Eat Chicago

Copyright 2017 Wednesday Journal Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago web development by liQuidprint