The reality is that for toddlers biting is a stage many go through. It is one of many ways they communicate when they don’t yet have the words to express themselves. Unfortunately, it can hurt, break skin, leave teeth marks and/or a serious bruise. And of course if the biting is not caught and dealt with early on it can continue. That said, it makes sense as to why both younger and older children with speech and language delays/disorders sometimes become biters, hitters and/or hair pullers. They also sometimes become the victims of biting when they are unable to express their wants, needs and desires.
As a parent it is downright frustrating to be on either side of the situation. When your child is on the receiving end of the biting, you naturally want to fly off the handle and make sure that the biter is being dealt with appropriately. Give the child and their parents the benefit of the doubt. Try to remember that your child may at some point become the biter, rather than the bitee, and you want to be given a fair chance to handle this appropriately.
So what do we do when our child is bit by another child or bites another child at school?
- Remember this is a form of communication.
- Check with the school to see if they have a policy in place for biting and ask them to implement it.
- Understand that it is NOT the parents fault (or your fault if you are the parent of the biter) that the child is biting. After all, it is a form of communication.
- Remember not to go off on the teacher/daycare worker. Chances are it happened so fast it was not seen by the teacher since they didn’t know it was coming. Once the teacher knows they can keep a closer eye on the biter.
- Avoid putting blame on the daycare or school staff until it’s a recurring issue and no one appears to be doing anything about it!
- Observe the child in play to determine why they are biting (and stop them before they can bite) but look for the trigger. Once you know the trigger (e.g., the other child grabbing a toy out of your child’s hand or vice versa) you can deal with it more effectively. If grabbing toys or sharing toys in general is the issue, use these tools: https://littlesproutspeech.com/store/mini-stories-make-keep-friends/
- Work on teaching the child alternative responses. For example, if verbal or able to sign you can teach them phrases like “mine” or “my turn” to help them advocate for themselves.
- If the behaviors continue despite everything else, use these tools: https://littlesproutspeech.com/store/picture-guides-for-better-behavior-series-1/
So we mentioned to check with the school on their policy. But what is a fair policy for dealing with a biter?
Some schools have a 3 strikes and your out policy. Read your paperwork before signing and sending your kid to a program. If you KNOW this is something they struggle with (even if it is a result of limited communication skills as a result of autism), this is an important thing to know up front! It may help you choose your school site based on the behavioral policies they have in place so look for those!
Most schools and daycares will have a fair policy in place. For example, at one school I go into the biting was handled within the classroom. If it was a first time offense, the parents were not contacted during the school day and the teachers worked to prevent it from happening again. The parents were informed at pick up but no incident report was written and no parents were called at the time of the incident. After the first offense, the teachers observed the child and watched to see if they could pick up on what triggered the biting behavior in the first place. For this kiddo in particular, it was his reaction to a friend grabbing a toy out of his hand. The child didn’t have the language yet to say “NO, that’s mine” so instead they bit. This is common.
For kids that are old enough and repeat biters, the school may ask the parents to come up with a discipline plan for both home and school and share it with the teachers/school to make sure everyone was comfortable with said plan. Then if it continued to happen again, they would call a meeting for the school and parents to meet to see if everyone was on the same page. If they were, great, they made some tweaks to the plan as needed and pushed forward. Sometimes, however, if the school and parents were not on the same page, the school may ask a family to leave (e.g., I saw this in one particular case where it was clear the parents were not doing their part to implement the plan at home and it was a very one sided effort from the school team).
Just remember that if it is your child that is on the receiving end of the biting, the other parents are feeling embarrassed, mortified, upset, frustrated and possibly even more distraught over the situation than you do as the parent of the kiddo who got bit!
Remember these tips and you and the school team will be able to help your child work through their behaviors.
To bite-free children!