Dealing With Biters

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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:

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  • 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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