When 2-year-olds scuffle, it is not because the school is an unsafe place or a teacher is negligent, since these physical interactions happen in every single preschool and day care environment in the world. It is because, no matter how well and closely young children are supervised, a bite happens in a nanosecond.
If a teacher knows to expect it, she can shadow a serial biter (assuming robust staffing). But when a bite happens randomly like a flash of lightning, there is simply nothing teachers can do but treat the injury, soothe the aggrieved child, and explain calmly and repetitively to the aggressive child why it is not OK to bite. At age 2 or 3, there is nothing more a biting child can absorb, and punishment — often delivered minutes or hours later — is useless because by then, the cause of the punishment has been forgotten, if ever properly understood in the first place.
The best remedies are disapproval delivered with a calm but mildly reproachful tone, immediate redirection and time ... time for all involved to settle down, and time for the child who bites to outgrow what may be a distasteful but developmentally “normal” behavior for at least 10 percent of young children.
So, there is no guarantee that your toddler or preschooler will never come home with marks on his or her body, inflicted by a classmate. And if you are the parent of a young child who bites or is in other ways physically aggressive toward peers, can I tell you there is a silver bullet for that, or for your parental embarrassment? Nope. But parents and teachers can work together to teach children more socially acceptable ways of interacting and, at the same time, can wait patiently for them to grow up.
The good news is, they always do.
Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport. Her first book, titled “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More,” will be published in May.