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Dealing With Biters

One toddler behavior that causes consternation in the nursery is biting! First, there's trauma to the child who feels the instant pain and indignation, then there's her parent who may express even stronger feelings.

Temporary "biters" are likely to be second or later children in their families where they've found that biting is a weapon that works against older siblings. They may've experienced some upheaval at home, such as a new baby or a move.

A biting policy helps minimize the "ouchy" traumas to children, parents, and caregivers. Follow this procedure when a bite occurs:

1. Comfort and treat the injured child. Wash the bite mark with warm water. Look for broken skin. If the skin is broken, page the child's parents, and let them decide if they need to consult their family doctor. If there's a red mark and the child will tolerate it, hold a small cold compress on the spot while reading a book to or rocking the child. Don't overreact. As soon as the child is comforted, give her a hug and encourage her to get a toy and play.
2. Talk to the biter. Have another volunteer take the biter aside, get at eye-level, and talk quietly. Set the biter in a child-sized "time out" chair or other acceptable "isolation spot" for a very short time.
3. Write two incident reports. One is for the parents of the injured child, and it details what was done to treat and comfort the child. It doesn't name the biter. The other one is for the parents of the biter, and it states the circumstances of the biting incident and what was done as discipline. It does name the child who was bitten. This allows that parent to approach the injured child's parent. Give a copy of the incident report to nursery leadership so they'll know who was involved.
4. If at first you don't succeed... If the same child bites again, repeat the procedure with two additional steps:

  • Have the nursery coordinator talk with the parents and ask for their cooperation in changing the behavior.
  • Place a small, discreet sign on the wall that names the repeat biter. Have volunteers watch this child carefully to intercept a biting attempt. The child may bite again, and the procedure remains the same. Time-out can be lengthened, and leadership must continue to work with the parents. As soon as the biting pattern is broken, remove the sign.

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