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Dear Jenny: Our Preschool Won't Deal With The Biter

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Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email advice@romper.com.

Dear Jenny,

My daughter, who recently turned 3, has been the target of a biter at preschool. The preschool only recently reopened, after shutting down for the pandemic, and everything's a little different: Parents aren't allowed inside, the kids get temperature checks at the door, and the adults wear masks, although the kids don't have to. I respect that this is a challenging time for everyone. Still, this was not the situation I was hoping to send my daughter back into.

This other child just started there, isn't particularly verbal (he is 2), and he only ever bites my daughter. He bites hard. He breaks the skin on my daughter's back. I signed the incident reports for bites one and two without making a fuss, but bite No. 3 — in two months! — put me over the edge. The preschool downplayed it, and even sent out some chipper email about how biting is normal (just really hard for parents!). I found myself really upset — with the biter, the preschool, and the parents of the biter. I don't feel good about shrugging this behavior off with "kids will be kids" when it is happening repeatedly, and it leaves a wound. Also, doesn't this increase the risk of my kid getting COVID??

I think the preschool should tell the parents of the kid that he has to stop this behavior in order to go to the school. I don't really want to start a whole scene there, especially now — but I also feel like I am a mother, and my whole f—ing job is to protect my child. What is "normal biting"? And where should I draw the line?

Signed,

Wounded

Dear Wounded,

Three times??

Sure, biting is "normal" for kids this age, meaning it's common: Studies suggest half of all kids in day care will get bitten (by each other).

But the fact that it's normal doesn't mean the preschool can be blasé about it, especially when there's only one kid — yours — being bitten. They should have a plan in place for when it happens to any kid, including contacting all the parents or caregivers, giving a full accounting of what happened, and taking responsibility for it not happening again. Biting is an excellent way to transfer hepatitis B, tetanus, and even, rarely, hepatitis C, HIV, and even syphilis. I can't find evidence of biting leading to COVID, but any kid biting your kid is a) very close and b) not wearing a mask.

Infection rates for all of the above except tetanus (hep B, hep C, HIV, and syphilis) in children is low. But if a child has any of them, the preschool doesn't necessarily know. That's why each bite should be treated as if transmission is a possibility.

Fortunately, transmission is preventable — so PREVENT IT ALREADY.

It happened so quickly, we were mostly confused, like, 'Are you trying to bite me?'

The No. 1 priority of teachers and child care providers is to keep kids safe. Your daughter has the right to feel safe all day, every day, and you have the right to feel safe sending your daughter to school.

My son has not bitten anyone, but six months ago, he went through a phase of really trying to. When he'd had it with the endless indignities of being a toddler — putting clothes on! Taking clothes off! Eating healthy and delicious food! — he would come after me and his dad with his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth open, aiming for a collar or a shirt hem. It happened so quickly, we were mostly confused, like, "Are you trying to bite me?" He didn't follow through on biting skin, but he did bite our clothes. He would gather his dad's bathrobe or a shirt in his hands and shove it into his mouth. It always took my breath away, how quickly this mellow kid became so frustrated he either screamed at an intolerable volume or fished around for something to bite.

As someone who, before Lexapro, had an equal capacity to lose my sh*t, this was familiar. I would gape at my son with heartbreak and recognition: He's so frustrated! He's so angry! Also: I am no more emotionally evolved than a toddler!

This other kid's parents might be frustrated, too, or even embarrassed (if they even know about the biting). And it sounds like you've been compassionate about this so far. But no more biting, right?

Your daughter has the right to feel safe all day, every day.

The next time you take your daughter to school, talk to them (from 6 feet away, wearing a mask). Tell them you're concerned. Tell them about the dangers of biting. Tell them how stressful it is for your daughter not to know, every day, whether she will be bitten. Tell them how stressful it is for you not to know, every day, whether your daughter will be bitten. Tell them you're not satisfied with their response to your daughter being bitten repeatedly at their school, especially since the way she's being bitten is predictable and preventable.

Stick to the point. And don't leave until they've promised to:

  • Talk to the other kid's parents.
  • Tell you exactly what they're going to do that day, and every day, to prevent your daughter from being bitten. (If you like to wave printouts in other people's faces, Zero to Three has some wonderful resources you can share.)

It's likely the other kid is going through a phase that will pass, but for now, every day you pick your daughter up, check in about how the school is continuing to prevent her from being bitten.

The absolute end of the road is exploring alternative child care options. So for now, concentrate on resolving this, and know that you're allowed to politely, yet firmly, express the expectation that preventable harm to your daughter be prevented.

GOD KNOWS WE CAN'T PREVENT EVERYTHING, BUT PHYSICAL HARM TO A CHILD IS THE NO. 1 THING WE SHOULD TRY TO PREVENT. TAKE IT SERIOUSLY AND ADVOCATE FOR YOUR KID. YOU GOT THIS.

<3 Jenny

Dying to ask Jenny a question? Email advice@romper.com.