17 September 2007

Q&A Disciplining A 5-year Old Biter

from Yahoo! Answers:
Disciplining 5 year old for biting?

I just got a call from my 5 year old's kindergarten principal telling me that he is misbehaving and biting kids on the bus. He is giving all the teachers attitude and doesn't listen. I can take his playstation away but how do I keep him busy as a punishment? Obviously, he can't read books yet. Any suggestions?
Posted by Cus

Best Answer - Chosen by Asker (written by Don Berg, Attitutor)

I have over 15 years experience leading kids of all ages and I have to say in response to other answers-

Doing violence to your child in response to his violence teaches that violence is O.K. but only for people who are bigger and stronger. I certainly hope that you are not trying to teach that lesson (if you are don't bother reading the rest of this.)

Do not bite him, he is not capable of understanding the connection between his biting other kids and your biting him. If you bite him it is simply a violation of his inherent trust in you as his parent. The same goes for spanking, you only teach him that you can get away with doing violence and he can't.

In regards to actually doing something useful-

You need to find out what disciplinary procedures the kindergarten is using in response to this behavior. If they aren't doing anything and relying on you to solve the problem then they are not helping the situation.

The most important thing to do is make sure that he is clear about the connection between whatever actions you take and the actions he took (biting) that made those consequences necessary.

Make sure that you help him to remember exactly what happened when he bit the other kids and then help him imagine how he would feel if he was in the other kid's position. You do not need to actually demonstrate the violence, he is perfectly capable of imagining it, though he may need some help putting the story together.

Try to help him imagine a realistic scene to answer each of the following questions:
1. What would it feel like to be bitten by another kid?
2. Is hurting people a bad thing or a good thing?
3. How do you think your friend felt when you bit them?
4. Sometimes people lose control of themselves and do things that hurt their friends even if they didn't really mean to hurt them, what should be the consequence of hurting someone else?

I recommend that if you can help him imagine answers to each of the question then you ask him what he thinks an appropriate consequence should be for him when he bites other kids.

Ask him about his opinion of what they do as a consequence at kindergarten. Does he think they treat him fairly? If not, what would he prefer they do?

Think carefully about whatever he suggests as his punishment. Discuss what you think is reasonable and fair, then make a decision about what the consequences will be from then on.

Write down exactly what you decide is the appropriate consequences and have him "sign" that he agrees to it (even though he doesn't read or write this will make an impression that this is really important.) I do not recommend you invoke it for the offense that prompted the discussion unless he thinks that is fair. Making this big a deal out of it should have gotten his attention.

If he bites again then the consequences should occur as soon as possible and with only enough discussion to establish that he understands that he bit someone and therefore the consequences are exactly what you both discussed and wrote down. If he doesn't think it's fair anymore then AFTER the consequences have been completed you can re-negotiate the consequences.

The most important things are to make it clear that
1. he is not allowed to bite people,
2. your job as a parent is
a. to be compassionate for his struggle to master self-control, and
b. to enforce the consequences that you both think will encourage him to find a different way to express himself rather than biting.

If you find that you are still dealing with biting behaviors after administering a couple of consequences then focus on helping him discover how he is feeling just before he bites people and work on imagining different ways to express those feelings.

Good luck, below are resources that follow along the general lines that I have outlined. Don't be surprised if you have to take these steps over several days. Preventing this behavior is worth the investment of time at his age.

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish- Parenting Experts

Parenting with Love and Logic Site


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the only thing you had suggestions for was the biting. How about the attitude and the not listening? The bad attitude is so hard to figure out, especially when as the parent, your not there to witness it. What do you do?

Don Berg said...

You hired your child care providers and have to be able to trust them with your child's life. You also have to trust them to handle all the minor behavioral problems. Your job is to support both your child and the provider to have a good relationship. That means that you don't interfere unless it's a major problem, like biting.

The problem with trying to deal with the other behaviors is exactly what you point out- the fact that you are not there. Most important, do not put your child in double jeopardy for their minor misbehaviors. Biting is a very serious menace to other children, so it warrants the extra emphasis of adding the parents voices and actions as a deterrent. Minor misbehavior, while annoying, needs to be handled by the care givers who are in the situation, not micro-managed by absent parents.

You have to make sure that the child care providers are handling their end of the deal. It is impossible for a parent to micro-manage a child's behavior at school, therefore you need to be absolutely comfortable with what the providers are doing to handle the less menacing aspects of the child's behavior. Support your caregiver by brainstorming potential solutions, encouraging them, and reflecting on what has worked with your child before.

When your child is having problems at school you, as the parent, have to find the balance between supporting both the care givers and your child. The consequences that are given by the care givers need to be acknowledged and also the child's struggle with self-control. The reflective strategies that I described would be a good way to help your child reflect on their own behavior, but parent enforced consequences for behaviors at school should be reserved only for serious problems.

So the challenge of the minor misbehaviors is different than with major problems. Annoying behaviors are between the care giver and the child and your job is to be supportive to both (based on the assumption that you absolutely trust the care giver, if not get someone you do trust.) In a major problem situation you have to reinforce the lessons that the caregiver is providing as you also listen to your child's struggle with self-control.