Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Three Strikes and They’re Out!


Guest blogger Debbie Bruemmer, parent counselor, has been getting a lot of calls lately from parents whose children have been expelled from their centers for reasons you might not believe!

If I were talking about baseball, this might be appropriate, but I’m not! Some child care centers actually have a three bites and you’re out policy, which means children who need help learning appropriate behaviors are instead being expelled from those programs that could be teaching them to respond differently. Biting is a very typical behavior for toddlers, and it’s the duty of teachers and parents to help children learn how to respond to their feelings in a way that hurts less!

I can see where it’s an issue for some centers, that it’s a liability for the other children and a source of exasperation for a teacher that is sometimes caring for as many as ten children. One center that has this policy, however, is a star rated center, and if they don’t know how to help the children who are biting, who does? Children bite for many reasons: feeling frustrated, a limited ability to communicate with words, experimenting with their senses, or testing their limits. If a child is biting, teachers and parents should pay close attention to what is happening around the child when they are biting. Is the child hungry or tired? Is there some stressful situation in the classroom, like a thunderstorm outside, or their parent is late in picking them up?

When a child bites, intervene immediately between the child who is doing the biting and the bitten child. Stay calm and don’t overreact: adults should use their voice and their expression to show that biting is not okay, and should let the child who did the biting help in comforting the bitten child, like getting an ice pack (asking the bitten child first, of course, if they are okay with this).

If you know your child is at the developmental stage where they are biting, talk to the director at your program, talk to the teachers. Make sure that they’re aware and know what to expect, and that they’ve had training in positive discipline techniques. With the right positive reinforcement of desired behaviors, children can learn that biting is not appropriate. If they’re getting expelled after three bites, they’re not being given that opportunity!

Resources: Fact Sheets for Families: Biting

5 thoughts on “Three Strikes and They’re Out!

  1. I am the parent of a child who has been expelled. It is frustrating watching your kid trying so hard to express themselves and see them continue to fail. It is depressing to see the bruises on the other children when you pick up your child (facial bites), and think my goodness… how can my angel hurt these other kids. I believe that the teachers aren’t seeing the entire picture and are too quick to begin blaming and pinpointing one child once they are identified as the one with the issue. I also feel my child learned that he/she could bite get what he/she wanted, and although he/she hurt the other child, they still got to play with the toy they wanted, and they were happy. I wonder if the behavior wouldn’t have stopped had he/she been removed from the toy he/she wanted in the first place, then the affection lavished upon the child whom was hurt. Hopefully the new daycare and I can work together on getting this behavior to stop once and for all!!!

  2. As a child care provider, I have recently experienced this issue repeatedly with one child (17 months old). I have a strict age appropriate timeout & “apology” policy, reinforcing loving behavior even after any hurtful event. After this child bit EVERY other child in my home over a 3 week span, I began to consider giving my 2 weeks notice (to protect the other children!). The child’s mom felt horrible after each bite report and she chose to use the “eye for an eye” technique, gently but firmly biting the child back at home. I’m not sure how many times she had to do this, but after she told me she had started doing this, I have not had ANY trouble since! It’s quite possible that the child just outgrew the habit, but I choose to believe her technique might have helped her child understand how it feels!

  3. Biting is a harsh way for a child to get attention. I have raised a number of children and believe wholeheartedly that you have to show that child that biting is unacceptable at home or anywhere. Yes, I have bitten the child back which I am told is not acceptable in this day and time…but it did work on every child I have done that to. I know Day Cares cannot punish in this way but a Day Care needs to implement a plan and work with it. If it isn’t working switch it up and find another alternative way. The biter should not be mistreated but they need to learn quickly. I guess I am old school and believe firmly that if you give a negative reaction you will get the same in return.
    I sure hope that my grandchild will learn eventually to quit biting.

  4. Children are eager for us to teach them how to manage their emotions. When a child bites, they are simply trying to figure out how to communicate a need (I want that toy, you’re in my way, I’m hungry). It’s up to us to show children the appropriate way to communicate that need that will not hurt another child. Even if a child is ‘bit back’, they are not going to stop because it hurts another child. They are going to stop because they don’t want to get bit. Some tips that I’ve seen work are as follows:
    • Observe the child for a period of time to see where his/her biting triggers are.
    • Give the child language to use when trying to express a need.
    • Validate a child’s feelings (You’re really mad…It’s okay to be mad, it’s not okay to bite).
    • Give the child something to bite (teething ring, apple, washcloth…).
    When coming across the issue of biting…I would encourage parents and caregivers to immediately turn to their community resources or research the subject – especially before expelling a child or even biting the child back!

  5. Toddlers and preschoolers are not simply mini-adults. They depend on adults for guidance, to model grown up responses to poor behavior choices. Very young children are not developmentally ready to share, and often communicate physically before they use words. The language they do use can be very limited, so they tend to shove, push, and bite!

    Parents and caregivers need to model positive responses to show children how to play safely and to be considerate of others. Discipline means teaching children age-appropriate ways to control themselves, which will encourage confidence and serve to guide children who bite toward self-control and away from biting. NAEYC (1996) suggests that the key to successful management of biting is understanding–for kids and adults alike.

    Staff at center-based programs need to recognize that biting is as normal and natural as toileting and tantrums, yet accept their responsibility to provide and maintain a safe environment (Greenman & Stonehouse, 1994). Never should a biter be bitten and expect the behavior to stop.