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Kicking Kids Out for Biting?

In most of the comments and e-mails I receive about children who have bit, the parent expresses a worry that the child will be “asked to leave” or “kicked out of child care”. The parents often proceed to tell me of the multiple programs the child has been asked to leave.

Removing children from child care settings for biting troubles me. It represents our failure as adults to meet the needs of the children in our care—all of them. I don’t like failure as the end of the road; I like failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. Removing the child is the end of the road for the educarers but not for the child or parents. They still have to deal with the behavior and oftentimes the change of settings and the breaking of attachments actually worsen the biting. Early childhood educators are ethically obligated to help children and families.

Educarers and administrators recognize their obligation to the child who bites, the child who is bit, and to the families of all the children. This sometimes puts them in what feels like a no-win situation. And, yet, removing the child at the behest of the other parents often results in harm to each and everyone of the children. Life is full of challenges in dealing with others who do not have appropriate social skills. Removing the child who has bit does not improve the social skills of the child who bit or the skills of those who have been bitten. I have too often seen removal of a child as an easy-out for educarers and administrators especially when under pressure from the children who have been bit.

Please don’t misunderstand: biting is a serious issue which must be dealt with effectively and quickly. Working with children is an art. Working with children effectively requires a thorough understanding of child development and behaviors. Dealing with biting is very difficult, aggravating, and frustrating and every day that biting is occurring in a classroom seems like an eternity to the educarer. And, yet, it is the job of the educarer to meet the needs of all of the children in care and it is the job of the administrator to support the educarer in educaring the children.

The administrator can support educarers by problem solving the biting with them. Sometimes, simply rearranging the room so that adults can better monitor the children or so that the area of the room where biting occurs frequently is removed can solve the problem. Sometimes, it requires finding ways to adequately meet the needs of the child who has bitten. The child’s behavior is a form of communication: what is s/he saying to you? Through careful listening and knowledgeable questioning and comments, the administrator can help the frustrated educarers use the child development knowledge that they possess to solve the problem.

Sometimes, however, the administrator will have to provide concrete resources to help the educarers. The administrator may need to provide additional or different toys or an extra adult on a temporary basis. Yes, it does cost money to place another adult with the group. However, as long as the biting problem continues parents, grandparents, and others are saying negative things about the program in the community. If by providing an extra adult the biting goes away the money spent may very well save money in the long term when families speak positively about the program’s commitment to children.

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