Biting is a common behaviour that some young children experience and it occurs more often amongst children under the age of five and in group situations such as school, nursery, playgroup or other social situations. The need or motivation for one child to bite another is just part of some children’s development journey, where they do not yet have the words to sufficiently communicate common emotions such as anger, frustration or need.
Evidence suggests that up to a quarter of all very young children will bite others at some stage. We understand that this is a difficult situation for parents whether it is your child that has been bitten or your child that has been responsible for biting others.
Children bite for many reasons and we aim to handle any biting incident with respect and sensitivity for all involved. It is the nursery’s policy to deal with each biting incident on a case by case basis making sure that parents / carers involved are kept up to date with what is happening, but at the same time respecting the confidentiality of the children involved. This ultimately means that we are not able to divulge the identity of any child involved in a biting incident.
This policy has been created to help prepare staff and parents/carers for the possibility of experiencing a biting incident and to help put into perspective and give some proportion to what can be an upsetting experience for all concerned.
WHY DOES BITING HAPPEN?
Whilst biting is more common at nursery or in other group situations than at home, a biting incident is not a negative reflection on the biter, the staff or the nursery. We have very clear behavioural expectations at the nursery and children are expected and encouraged to share, wait their turn, be respectful and play happily together using games and activities observed by an adult.
However, very young children often do not have the coping mechanisms, nor the self regulation skills which adults and older children have that help us to diffuse and express our emotions in socially acceptable ways. Young children may resort to hair pulling, hitting and biting which is upsetting for us, but at the same time, developmentally normal. The most common reasons for biting are:
Teething and Painful Gums – swelling gums can be painful and cause discomfort; this can be relieved by biting or chewing
Physical Exploration – babies and young children explore the world around them using their senses and young children do not always know the difference between gnawing on a toy and biting someone.
Seeking Attention – when children are in situations where they feel they are not receiving enough attention, biting is a quick way of becoming the centre of attention.
Expressions of Frustration – children can be frustrated by a number of things, such as wanting to be independent and doing things for themselves. Unfortunately, they do not have the vocabulary to express themselves clearly and this can sometimes lead to biting as a way of dealing with the frustration.
WHAT IS OUR PROCEDURE FOLLOWING A BITING INCIDENT?
First and foremost, nursery management will work with each parent/carer, the children and the staff team to discover why a child is biting and to comfort and reassure the child who has been bitten. This may have been an isolated incident, but we will always record the incident to examine what happened just before the incident or if there were any behavioural trends.
Once we have identified the possible trigger for the biting incident, we will then make changes to reduce or remove the cause. For example, we may buy duplicates of favourite toys to prevent disputes; or in exceptional circumstances and for a brief period a member of staff may be appointed to provide a few one to one care sessions for the biter, to help with their behavioural needs, and to encourage them to find different ways to express themselves.
We may encourage a biting child to take part in activities which help release frustration such as outdoor play or other physical activities. In certain exceptional circumstances we may also consider moving the biting or bitten child to another playroom or using distraction techniques, where such an action does not adversely impact the care of either child. This is very much a last resort and will only be considered if evidence suggests a positive outcome for both children.
In brief, our procedure in the event of a biting incident is as follows:
The child who has been bitten will be comforted and reassured and where needed, first aid will be administered.
The bite wound will be washed thoroughly and cleaned with an antiseptic wipe and given cold compress/ice pack for any swelling. If the wound is bleeding, it will be allowed to bleed further, before a waterproof dressing is applied.
If the bite has broken or bruised the skin, parents/carers will then be contacted so that you are aware that your child has been bitten and appropriate action can be taken, involving perhaps a visit to the GP or in serious cases an Accident and Emergency Department.
The child that has bitten will also be examined to ensure their own health and safety.
We will talk to the child who has bitten, age appropriately, and try to help the child understand that there are other ways to express themselves and deal with the situation. We may help them to find something nice to do for the child that they have bitten.
We will ensure that the biting child understands that such action (the behaviour and not the child) is unkind, and makes staff and the child who has been bitten upset. The child may be asked to apologise, as appropriate, or show they are sorry, e.g. through hugging.
Incident forms are filled out for both children. The parent/carer of the child who received the bite will be informed by the signing of the accident form as recognition.
Incident reports will be reviewed by the Key person, Nursery SENCO and the Manager to determine if there is a pattern of consistent biting. When biting has become a pattern of behaviour, we will shadow and observe the individual child, looking for ‘triggers’.
In certain cases we may seek professional advice from local behavioural experts or regional special needs co-ordinators. This will always be initiated in partnership with the permission of parents and carers.
The key to addressing any challenging behaviour is a partnership approach. We encourage parents and carers to work with the nursery team and to support any behaviour management techniques and use them at home as well as at nursery.
Please remember that staff cannot give you any information about any other children in the nursery, and cannot disclose who has bitten your child or who your child has bitten. Very young children do not bite maliciously, they bite because they don’t know how else to act or react. Whilst most parents/carers understand this, there are cases in which parents/carers of the bitten child are naturally very angry about the incident. Conversely, the parents/carers of a child who bites feel very upset and sometimes guilty about the situation. Revealing identities in these emotionally charged circumstances would be unfair and serve no real purpose.
We would like to emphasise that although biting and overly aggressive behaviour is quite common and normal amongst small children, we work very hard not only in dealing with bites when they happen, but also at finding methods of prevention: keeping children active, working in smaller groups, observing and shadowing a child and perhaps offering soothing activities designed to lessen aggressive and boisterous behaviour.
If a child’s re-occurring behaviour, such as biting, is having a negative impact on their experience at nursery, we will work closely with all involved to attempt to resolve these issues. The nursery is well trained and resourced in the areas of behaviour management and special needs, and we can also draw upon external expertise to inform our options.
Overall, it is important that all parties involved work closely together. Each case will be different, as will the resolution. Please feel free to arrange time to talk with your child’s Keyperson or the Nursery Manager should you have any questions.