This morning during the playgroup, one of the children bit another child on the arm – hard. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I immediately go into action: I picked up the “biter” and took her, in this case, to a spot (I don’t have a specific corner or place) on the large mats that cover much of the floor, to sit alone. I told the other kids to not go near her. This is important for two reasons: So the other children can feel safe; and so that the aggressor can feel the isolation. Because I work alongside a very experienced person, Kristen, she immediately went to the “victim” to comfort him. He allowed her – some kids won’t – to put a soft cold compress (which I keep in the freezer) on the bite, along with applying some arnica (which you can get in a health food store) to help with the pain, swelling and bruising. The “biter” was very upset and cried quite a lot. It may sound a little heartless, but I feel this is a good sign. I let her cry for a few minutes, putting her back in the same spot when she tried several times to walk away and return to playing. I’ve found that most of the other kids will resume their play after being reassured that the “biter” is sitting alone because they hurt another member of the playgroup. I told them all that sometimes we cry when we’re hurt, sometimes we cry when we’re angry and other times, when we’re sad. Most children easily accept and understand this explanation. I also told them that I thought she was angry and sad. Often the child who bites is more surprised than anyone else! Afterward, I tried to get her to say: “Sorry.” to the boy she bit. But she wouldn’t! It was near the end of the playgroup and it was time to read, so I let that part go. Not ideal, but I got the point across.
A friend of mine, who used to work with small children, used to say that the equivalent adult situation might go like this: You’re sitting at a table with a group of other adults, let’s say at a dinner party. Everyone is having a nice time, the food is wonderful, you feel relaxed and happy to be there, and all of a sudden the person sitting next to you leans over and bites your cheek as hard as they can. Wow. Shocking! Painful! Outrageous! I know what I would feel: the pain, then become furious, and then feel confused, hurt and even more furious.
The difference, of course, is that children have adults to manage this kind of situation. We don’t have to let a child “get away” with this kind of behavior. We can say we’re angry about it and that it is absolutely not allowed. All this without raising our voice. Our intent, expression of anger and injustice are enough.