I recently received two letters from my son’s nursery informing me, on two separate occasions, that he’s been “bitten” – but that he’s “fine”.
And he is fine, he really is. Despite a full set of teeth marks in the centre of his back, and the same on his left arm, which I’m told were received because he was squabbling with another child over a toy. Standard.
What is perhaps less standard is my three-year-old’s interpretation of what happened to him. When I asked him about it, his eyes grew wide and serious. “Yes,” he nodded. “He was trying to EAT me.”
Apparently, biting is on the rise – 27% of nursery workers say they have seen an increase in young children biting, according to a poll by Day Nurseries.
More than three in five of those questioned said they often have to deal with children biting in their nurseries – and they suggest too much time in front of screens, as well as pressures on mums and dads, could be why.
Now, while I suspect the child who bit my son – whose identity remains unknown, because nursery staff are understandably reluctant to ‘dob in the biter’ – probably wasn’t using my child as a mid-morning snack, one nursery chain has come up with a novel way to deal with typical toddler frustrations.
Tops Day Nurseries, a chain of 30 centres in the south of England, has introduced “biting boxes” to distract children, filled with chewable rubber toys and teethers.
“The children learn that, if they get the sudden desire to bite, they can select a teething toy or similar to bite on to release the urge,” operations director, Amy Alderson, explained. “Mother nature intended us to find biting a pleasurable activity, hence the popularity of chewing gum.”
Alderson said they don’t want to ignore the fact that children are biting, and they make sure the kids learn it’s not acceptable and it hurts others.
In my view, it’s a brilliant idea. I clearly remember those feelings of frustration as a child. When I couldn’t do my homework, was having trouble with a friend at school, or simply when I felt chock-full of hormones, I used to bite down on the corner of my wooden desk to release some of that adrenaline. But of course, children need to learn that biting one another is not okay.
So what can we do it if our child bites – or, in my situation – someone bites them? Fiona Bland, from the National Day Nurseries Association, said it’s important to remember it can be a “normal part of development”. It may be a way of expressing anger, fear or frustration, she said, before the child has the vocabulary to express their emotions properly. Or, it could be a way to gain attention.
Some children may bite as a form of natural curiosity – simply to see what happens. And others may do it in stressful or anxious situations, to relieve those uncomfortable feelings.
Bland said it’s important to have clear strategies in place to minimise incidents of biting. Rather than excluding or punishing a child, find out why they did it – and what they’re trying to communicate.
Nursery workers, as well as parents, should gather as much information about the incident. It might be helpful, Bland suggested, to ask these four questions alongside a nursery worker to work out why it’s happening.
Does it tend to happen at specific times of the day e.g. lunch time?
Are they arguing over a precious object such as a favoured toy?
Is the child seeking some oral stimulation?
Is the child unable to verbalise their feelings?