If you have a dog and aren’t familiar with Dr. Ian Dunbar, well, you should get acquainted with him. He’s super smart and his training techniques have helped us a lot with our pups. One of the things he has an interesting perspective on is biting – or rather, bite inhibition. His philosophy is that mouthing in puppies is common and puppies must learn how to appropriately use their mouths, as well as the strength behind their teeth.
“Mouthing” in toddlers is also common … although for slightly different reasons. Toddlers often bite when they’re frustrated and haven’t learned how to properly express or handle that frustration. At least that’s what we’ve all read, right? I can safely say I’ve been bitten by my toddler far more times than I’ve been bitten by my dogs. Or other people’s dogs, for that matter. We’re pretty much at a 3:5819081901108 ratio, here.
Anyway, Sabine has recently been in a biting spell. I don’t really know exactly how it started. All I know is that, one day I was folding laundry and Sabine was throwing clothing everywhere. I asked Brandon to come get her out of the middle of the pile of clothes. When he picked her up, she shrieked and latched onto his shoulder. Not cool, right? He let out a scream and, honestly, I’m surprised he managed to not drop her … because his body went one way in shock, hers went another way in shock, and they both ended up sitting in the hallway looking at each other rather stunned.
So, what do you do? The logical thing to me seemed to explain to Sabine whenever she bit someone that A) She was biting and B) It hurt a lot! We would say, “Ouch! You bit me! That HURT!” and she would look sad and say, “Sowwy. Sowwy!” You could tell immediately that she was upset by the fact that she was upsetting someone else. We were on to something. We encouraged her to use her mouth in a gentle way – like kissing. And stopped the playtime if she couldn’t stop the dang biting.
A few days into this tactic I realized we were instilling bite inhibition in our child much as we did with our dogs, following Dr. Ian Dunbar’s methods of yelling “OW!” or something similar, encouraging a gentler “bite” and “losing the playmate” with continued biting. We were training our child like a dog, dammit! Although not intentionally, of course, but I guess when you spend years doing something one way it becomes ingrained in your brain somehow. Perhaps I need more parenting books. Or perhaps Dr. Ian Dunbar should write a parenting book. Hmmm.
Anyway, it’s working. There have been several instances in the past week or so when Sabine has gotten upset, opened her mouth like she was going to be me/Brandon/the couch/a toy/whatever and then suddenly STOPPED. She then says, “I wan bite. I kiss now,” and stops to give everyone kisses. I think that’s cool. I certainly don’t expect her emotions to disappear but watching her learn to control her frustrations and redirect them is a very interesting thing.
In summary, if training your child in the same manner you train your dog is wrong, I don’t want to be right. At least on this issue. I doubt I’ll have Sabine in an Easy Walk any time soon. Or a crate.