Sunday, August 1, 2010

Challenging Behavior #2

There are behaviors that begin to appear in the preschool stage that are truly a challenge and not the result of our own unrealistic expectations. Volumes of books have been written by professionals to help parents cope with these challenges and it does feel a bit overwhelming to me to take on this topic in a newspaper column. However it is the number one topic that comes up when I visit families or preschools. So, with your help, I will try to tackle the challenges that you, readers in our community, would like to hear more about. Please call or email me with questions you have, to help focus the next series of columns on challenging behavior.

Let’s start with biting. For the baby or toddler who is teething, biting is a way to sooth the irritation felt in the mouth by teeth pushing up under the gums. It would be unrealistic to expect a child in this developmental stage to stop biting or mouthing just because the behavior is bothering us. However it is especially difficult for the mother who is breastfeeding her teething baby.

To help prevent this normal behavior from becoming a challenge, there are a few things a mother can do. One is to protect herself by gently slipping her finger into the mouth of her baby to loosen the bite without giving attention to the baby’s behavior. In other words, we want to refrain from giving an ‘effect’ to ‘cause’ of biting.

Try to imagine the mother doing this. Now imagine the mother yelping in pain and pulling away from the baby. In the second scenario, the baby will be startled, maybe frightened. In the second example the experience will be emotional for the child. Guess what, emotional experiences are ones that are remembered. The baby is more likely to repeat the biting, maybe just to test out the theory—I bite, mom yells. A key component to behavior reoccurring is to pay attention to the behavior, ignoring a behavior provides no reinforcement for it to reoccur.

As the toddler moves into the preschool stage, you can begin to attach meaning to the behavior. If the child bites the parent or a sibling, you can calmly but seriously state, “Biting hurts. Don’t hurt daddy. At this stage of development you will do more damage than good by adding ‘time-out’ or other ‘taking away of privileges’ to your words.

Your preschooler wants your approval. He or she is modeling your behavior. By seriously and calmly addressing the biting and showing patience with your child as he or she becomes socialized into the world of preschoolers you will be building the foundation for good behavior.

To read this column online go to To request a discussion on a specific challenging behavior please email, or call 715-532-3209.

Toad House Publishing

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