Recently, I wrote about what to do if your child is biting other children. But, a few parents asked: What do I do if my child is the one being bitten?
Such a good question.
To answer the question directly and literally, humans have mouths full of germs--so if your child has a bite that breaks the skin, you should definitely call your doctor. But that's not the real question.
What parents want to know is: How do I stop it? and How do I explain it to my child?
If biting is happening in school or daycare, the stopping it part is reasonably straightforward. You have every right to expect that professionals (especially those you are paying) will keep your child safe. So if your child comes home with a bite, complain up the wazoo. Expect explanations and responses, and don't stop complaining until you get them--and until the biting stops. It's just not okay for that to happen in that setting. Anybody can be caught off guard once, but there should be no repeat biting.
It's way harder if Biter is a playgroup pal, or the child of a friend or a family member. That's where things get dicey. Yes, you can ditch playgroup or your friend or stop attending family gatherings, but that's not always easy--or what you want to do.
Here are some suggestions to keep your child safe:
Supervise. Of course you always supervise your child... but when there is a biter around, you need to take that up a notch or two. Stay close to your child, and do your best to get between them and Biter at all times.
Know the triggers. Being aware of triggers is just as important for Bitees as it is for Biter's parents and caregivers. Anger and frustration tend to make kids bite, especially if they don't have good communication skills yet. So make sure there are enough toys around to prevent fights over toys, and swoop in with something silly and fun when you see the tension mounting.
Talk to Biter's parents. In a nice way, because that usually works best. Start with a non-threatening, here-to-help approach, such as: "It's so hard when your kid bites!" Maybe refer to some made-up colleague or friend: "My friend from work had a toddler who bit all the time. She talked to her doctor, who had some really good ideas." (You could offer to send the link to my post, in case it hadn't dawned on them that they might be able to do something about it.)
If that doesn't have any effect, you may need to be more direct, along the lines of: "We really love hanging out with you and Biter, but the bites are really upsetting to Junior and we don't want him to get hurt. What can we do?" Again, the hope is to make Biter's parents feel supported, which is always better than the alternative, and to keep lines of communication open.
If the bites persist, you may just need to stop hanging out with Biter--and hope that it is just a phase (and one that passes quickly). If you've tried talking with Biter's parents and/or caregivers, it will be far more understandable when you start declining invitations. The most important thing is that your child be safe and well.
Explaining it all to your child is hard. If they are really little they aren't going to be able to understand explanations, but kids around 2 years old can begin to understand.
First and foremost, make sure they know that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. They need that. Telling them to keep a safe distance between themselves and Biter may help you do just that.
Explain that sometimes when people are mad or sad they do things that aren't nice. Use it as an opportunity to point out that biting really isn't nice (which is easy to do when your child is still smarting or has marks from the bite) and is something your child should never do.
If Biter is doing it because of behavioral or other problems (which is common), explain that sometimes people have problems that make them do things like bite. They can't entirely help it, and we need to do our best to be kind and understand.
If you do it right, instead of being just another childhood trauma, it can be the first step toward teaching your child tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness. Which doesn't take away the pain of the bite, I know, but is a pretty good silver lining.