I remember the first time our daughter Gracelyn was bitten at daycare.
She was fresh to the toddler classroom, not yet talking, barely walking. I couldn’t help but remark each day we dropped her off at how much bigger the other kids were than she was. I lost sleep some nights trying to come up with a plan of how we could better equip her to defend herself if needed.
We went to pick her up like usual that fateful afternoon and her teacher approached us with a small square piece of paper in hand. It was an “incident report.” We were informed that “one of our friends bit us. It was unprovoked. We washed the area and used an ice pack and gave it TLC.”
The following thoughts ran through my head in a span of five seconds:
What was she doing?
What was “our friend” doing?
What is wrong with them?
Did their teeth break skin?
How did she react?
Did she cry?
What did you guys do to “our friend”?
Did you separate them?
Who was it?
Who was this “friend”?
A very controlled “…oh” came out of my mouth as I no longer paid attention to the teacher and knelt down to embrace our daughter. My husband was far more polite than I and continued to listen, but I know the same thoughts were running through his mind.
Unfortunately, this was not the last time an incident like this happened.
Gracelyn has been bitten on the finger, on the arm, on the back, on her leg, on her face — too many times to keep track of, sadly. Each time a teacher approaches us at pick-up with a small square piece of paper, we know why. And each time, the same thoughts run through my mind.
After about the 11th time and the second time in one week, we had had enough. I crossly asked the teacher why if it was such normal behavior for kids their age, why was my daughter not doing any of the biting? Did she not inherit some special vampire gene that these kids did? We then asked to promptly speak to the director. The following day, we were provided with materials on this apparently age-appropriate behavior and their policy on how they handle biters.
Some lessons we have learned through our experience dealing with kids that bite our child are:
1) Language matters. Pay attention to how the daycare teacher is describing the situation to you – what words are they using to describe the biter, the actions that happened. I assure you that your tiny human is paying attention. As parents, our words, in general, have a great impact, but I think in moments like these, they carry greater weight and can set up a notion — good or bad — that your tiny human will carry with them for many years. If inaccurate adjectives are being used to describe the situation, interrupt and make sure the correct ones are used.
2) Take the opportunity to teach your child to use their voice and body to say no. When she was new in the toddler room and didn’t know how to talk, this was obviously not possible. However, we still taught her. Now that her language skills have evolved, we continue to teach our daughter that if she doesn’t want someone to do something to her, to look them in the eyes and tell them, “no, don’t do that!” In cases of biting, we tell her to loudly say, “No! Stop! Don’t bite me!” And we practice, practice, practice.
3) The memory of a two-year-old is like a sponge, soaking in and retaining everything. And Gracelyn is no exception. She remembers who bit her and where they bit her for weeks after the incident has taken place. She was hurt, it was a big deal for her, and we can’t ignore that. When she brings it up, we acknowledge what this person did to her, we tell her he/she should not have done that, and we ask her if she’s okay. Most of the time she is, other times she says it hurts or that she didn’t like it when it happened. And then she moves on. She needed to voice it; we listened.
4) As much as you want to let the little bugger who hurt your child know your true feelings, I would strongly advise against it. You are, after all, setting an example for your child. Thankfully, my daughter doesn’t hold a grudge as long as I do. It’s redeeming for me at pick up time when I see Gracelyn playing with someone who has bitten her in the past. I have learned to, like her, forgive and move on.
5) Lastly, as upset as I get about the whole thing, I try to keep the parent of the biter in mind. It can’t be fun to have to sign an incident report at pick-ups informing you that your kid bit someone today. I know I would be both horrified and mortified. I don’t think any parent wants their child to bite another child. So I try to extend grace in that way.
I am sure Gracelyn will get bitten again. And so will her sister, Maeva. (At the rate she’s going with biting while nursing, Maeva might be the biter in the classroom.) Also to note, as bitter and sarcastic as I sound about it, biting is actually an age-appropriate behavior for toddlers. If you’re the parent of a biter, I’m sorry you have to deal with that. If you’re the parent of a bitten, may we have enough snuggles and ice packs to comfort your little one.