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Biting in Early Childhood and How to Respond

Okay, teachers, let's talk about something that's not often discussed but should be treated with great importance- children biting. You've been there before. Two kids are playing with toys, and out of nowhere, one child grabs the other child's ears and sinks their teeth into them. The bitten one screams as the biter smiles, wiping his mouth and proud of their work. Of course, as a childcare provider, you want to intervene. But what's the best way to handle the situation without adding fuel to the fire? And Is child biting even normal? How will you communicate the severity of the issue to parents? Okay, let's break it down.


Are children biting in early childhood education normal?

According to research published in the Early Childhood Education Journal, biting among young children is not unusual and can be considered developmentally appropriate in some cases. However, because biting cases are more common among toddlers and children under 3 or 4, scholars have hypothesized that biting may be a coping mechanism for young children who have not yet developed the verbal skills to express their emotions. Thus they resort to biting, shoving, or pushing as a form of communication. At age 3, toddlers begin to build their verbal repertoire and have more self-control and the ability to express themselves in words. But until then, it's important to remember that biting incidents are not malicious, and children are still learning to control their impulses, so they will bite less as they age. Again research indicates that biting is more common in boys than girls, but more research is needed to support this gender documentation. With that said, Julia Ruggero further states that when biting occurs more frequently than what's considered normal, perhaps the child every day, it might indicate an underlying dysfunctional response to a problem. It could be dysfunction in sensory integration, which is the brain's ability to process different information coming in from the senses. It could also be an extension of an underlying medical condition. In these cases, getting the child some help from a mental health professional is important.


What techniques can a toddler or preschool teacher implement?

Biting policy


A biting policy can be as simple as following standard first aid procedures. For example, if the bite is mild, the teacher can clean the wound with soap and water and put a band-aid on it. If the bite is more severe, the teacher can call the parents and ask them to take the child to the doctor. The policy should also include what will happen to the child that bites. We'll cover this in more detail in the next section. A biting policy can also involve recording the number of times a child bites and reporting it to the parents. This practice is vital because if biting becomes a regular occurrence, it might indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. It's as simple as that- a biting policy that includes first aid procedures and a plan for dealing with the child that bites.


Not apologizing


It sounds abrasive, but scholars such as Ruggero et al. state openly that biting is often totally unpredictable most of the time. It's not like the child is thinking, "I'm going to bite Suzie because I don't like her," or "I'm going to bite Timmy because he won't give me the toy." In most cases, the child isn't even aware that they are biting until it's too late. Ruggero explains that apologizing to the victim and their parents sends the message that you could have prevented the bite from happening if you had only been paying more attention. It also blames you and can make you feel guilty. Instead of apologizing, Ruggero suggests that you address this issue from a natural phenomenon perspective. "Schools encounter such cases frequently, and it's a normal part of child development. We already have policies and procedures to take care of the situation." This approach sends the message that although biting is a normal part of development and unpredictable, you're doing everything to ensure the safety of all the children in your care.


Replacement


What we mean by replacement is finding a new activity for the child that bites. In other words, if the child bites because he seeks attention, find a way to give him positive attention. This positive attention could be in the form of praise, physical affection (such as a hug), or verbal affirmation (such as saying, "I'm so proud of the way you're sharing your toys"). If the child bites because he's angry, investigate what might be causing the anger and let the parents know. It could be a teething problem or being hungry. "Tommy has been biting a lot for three days. I think it might be because he's teething. A toy such as a teether might help." Again, this sends the message that you're concerned about the child's needs and are working with the parents to find a solution.


Not mentioning the biter by name


Avoid publicly mentioning the child by name, which creates tension and embarrassment. This will help the child feel less singled out and like part of a group. The same applies to the victim. You must avoid making the child feel like a victim. Instead, focus on the positive behavior you want to see in the children. For example, you could say, "Let's all give each other gentle hugs," or "It looks like Timmy is angry. What can we do to help Timmy feel better?"



How to communicate with the parent of the bitten child?

Now that we've gone over some strategies for responding to biting, let's talk about how to communicate with the parents of the child that was bitten. First, no one likes to hear someone hurt their child, so we must be sensitive to the parent's feelings.


Avoid using the word "bitten."


The word "bitten" has a negative connotation and can make the parent feel defensive. Instead, try using a neutral term such as "hurt." For example, you can say, "I noticed that Tommy was hurt today during group time when playing with another child."


Use "I" statements


When communicating with the parent, use "I" statements. This will help the parent feel you're on their side and not judging them or their child. For example, Instead of saying, "Your child was bitten by another child today," you could say, "I noticed that Tommy was hurt today during group time when playing with another child." this will help the parent feel like you're on their side and that you're not judging them or their child.


Avoid using the word "normal."


The word "normal" can be interpreted in many ways, so it's important to be careful when using it. For example, instead of saying, "It's normal for children to bite," you could say, "Biting is a common occurrence in early childhood."


Offer solutions


Once you've explained what happened, it's important to offer solutions. This shows the parent that you're invested in their child's well-being and working together to find a solution. For example, you could say, "We have policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of all children in our care. We've also started using a new strategy of replacement that we think will be helpful. I'll keep you updated on your child's progress."


Follow up


Remember to follow up with the parent to update them on their child's progress. This will show them you're committed to their child's well-being and value their input.


Here's a quick example of what you could say to the parent whose child was injured:


"Hello, Mrs. Smith,


I wanted to Inform you that Tommy was hurt during group time today when playing with his friends. I noticed that he was hurt when another child bit him. I've spoken with the child's parents, and we've come up with a plan to help prevent this from happening again. As for Tommy's doing well and seems to be back to his usual self after doing some damage control. I'll be sure to post to you on his progress.


Take care,

Ms. Jackson"


Responding quickly and effectively when a child bites another child is important. Using the strategies we've mentioned, you can help prevent future biting incidents and create a positive and safe environment for all children in your care.


How to communicate with the child's parent who is biting?

Again no one likes to hear that their child has hurt another, so we'll need to be sensitive to the parent's feelings.


Avoid using the word "bitten."


Once again, the word "bitten" negatively can make the parent feel defensive. Instead, use a neutral word such as "hurt." For example, you could say, "I noticed that Bill had hurt another child today when they were playing."


Avoid the word "Just."


Using the word "just" can make the situation sound like it's not a big deal. For example, instead of saying, "Bill just hurt another child when they were playing," you could say, "I noticed that Bill had hurt another child today when they were playing." This will help the parent feel like you're taking the situation seriously.


Avoid the statement "Your child."


It sounds like you're blaming the child, and this makes the parent get defensive. So instead, use the child's actual name. For example, Suzie hurt another child today while playing."


Give the parent more background information


Giving the parent background information will help them feel you're on their side and that you're not judging them or their child. For example, Instead of saying, "Your child was bitten by another child today," you could say, "Such cases are not unusual among children of this age. I've seen it a few times before."


Suggest Solution


"It would be helpful if you could..."

"I would suggest that you..."

"It might be helpful if you..."


By suggesting a solution, you're showing the parent that you want to help them and their child. For example, you could say, "It would be helpful if you could talk to your child about biting and why it's not a good thing to do."


Thank the parent for their time


Always thank the parent for their time, even if they're unhappy with the situation. This will demonstrate that you value their input and appreciate their help keeping the child safe. For example, "Thank you for your time, Mrs. Smith. I'll be sure to keep you updated on Tommy's progress."


Reference:

Early Childhood Journal. (2022). Childhood Biting. Retrieved from; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1025672404118#citeas

 

Meet the Author: Sheika Petteway

Sheika Petteway provide educational and leadership training to individuals and organizations. She is the founder and CEO of Elite Educational Enterprises and has several years experience serving in the early childhood education industry.



Learn More about Mrs. Petteway by visiting her personal website www.sheikapetteway.com

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