It is important for biting to be addressed immediately when it occurs.
- You need to remain calm. A biting incident is scary for everyone.
- Deal with the safety of the children first. The behavior has occurred, you cannot change that now.
- the bitten child needs care
- the child that bit needs to also be safely removed from the situation so they can be calmed down and the behavior addressed.
Get on the child’s level, remain calm and use your voice and expression to show that biting is not acceptable. With eye contact, tell the child that bit something like: “Biting hurts. No biting.” You want it simple and direct. You can bring in additional language later. NEVER EVER bite the child that bit to show them it hurts. Biting them just models violence to them saying it’s acceptable.
Your primary concern is caring for the bitten child.
While beginning to comfort the bitten child you can point out to the child that bit how their behavior affected the other child: “You hurt her. She’s crying.” If language allows encourage the child who was bitten to tell the biter “You hurt me.” Some resources recommended that if developmentally appropriate, have the child who bit help the other child by getting the ice pack, etc. as a lesson in empathy and kindness. I never felt that it was an appropriate time to teach kindness and empathy. I also did not want any positive reinforcement of the biting, especially if the bite was for attention. Getting to help me might be perceived as a reward rather than a lesson in empathy and kindness.
Comfort will look different for each child who is bitten. Some might need a physical hug, others need your lap, some just want to move on, and some really need distance to calm themselves.
- Remain calm getting on the child’s level.
- Example of comforting language: “That really hurt! You don’t like it when your friend bites your arm!” “I’m sorry you got bitten.”
- Cleanse the wound with mild soap and water.
- Provide an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling.
- If skin is broken immediately contact the parent as this strong of a bite should probably be seen by a health care professional.
- Always document a biting incident.
Labeling a “Biter”
While it’s important to not label, humiliate or isolate a child who bites, it is also hard to avoid calling or thinking of a child who has bitten a “biter”. It is important to not use the term where the child can hear it. Saying a child bit someone is different than calling them a “biter”. Ask other adults important to the child to also not use that term. Labeling children can actually lead to them taking on the identity assigned to them, which can intensify biting behavior rather than eliminate it. The behavior should be labeled, not the child.
Isolating the child who bit
Do not let a child who bit another head freely back into the group until you have been able to address what happened with them. I found it worked best to keep them near me while I comforted and provided any necessary first aid to the bitten child. This closeness allows me to be sure they do not bite another child, they do not go back to play and that they witness the hurt they caused. Once the bitten child was comforted and ready to rejoin the group or get back to their personal play, I took time to address the biting. I reinforce it’s not ok, it hurts, etc. Then, if language is present, I ask about what was happening that lead to the biting; what was the biter hoping to get; how the biter was feeling, etc. Questions really depend on the child’s language, but the answers need to be more than yes or no. You are looking for clues for building your plan to change the behavior and keep everyone safe. In a child care program, any plan for addressing biting includes the whole team – provider, staff, and parents.
Home page Biting training