Our child, the biter

If you recall, DC2’s wonderful daycare went out of business because they mismanaged a theft and couldn’t meet operating expenses.  As a stop-gap measure, we enrolled DC2 at DC1’s private school’s associated daycare until ze hit 18 months and could enroll at the next youngest Montessori preschool in town.  Doing this was nice because it was one stop shopping for both kids at drop-off and pick-up.

However, although the private school daycare was not a bad daycare, it was also not a great daycare.  The kids weren’t mistreated, rules were followed etc., but it didn’t follow the guidelines for high quality daycare.  It didn’t follow the minimum guidelines either, but instead of a 4/1 teacher ratio for kids DC2’s age, there was a 6/1 teacher ratio.  And instead of involving the kids in setting up and cleaning up like Montessori schools do, generally there was one teacher cleaning up or setting up and the other teacher interacting with 12 kids all at the same time (or with just 1 kid at a time while the remaining 11 were on their own).

On top of that, DC2 went from 4 teeth to 12 teeth during hir duration at that daycare.

The lack of supervision plus the teething plus DC2’s personality… not a good combination.  The main teacher often said it wasn’t a big deal and sometimes the other kid deserved it, which, of course, didn’t make us feel any better about the situation.  They introduced DC2 to pacifiers (ironically at an age that most parents try to remove the pacifier).  Eventually we got enough bite slips that we got called in for a parent-teacher conference with the preschool director and the school director.  Ze wasn’t malevolent, they said, ze just bit when ze was protecting hir stuff or someone crowded hir too much.

The solution we came up with was to offer to pay for a third teacher in the room for a month during DC2’s prime biting hours.  (DH graphed out the bites and discovered a pattern to the timing– mainly when the kids were least supervised.)  $581.31 brought the student-teacher ratio down to 4/1.  The head teacher for the room was ecstatic.  DC2 only bit twice during that time period, once when the third teacher was sick and didn’t show up, and once at a non-standard time when there was a fight over a toy.  DC2 was caught almost biting a few times in addition to that.

Having the third teacher there also made the room much more like a high quality daycare.  The kids became more animated and less likely to stare and crowd any parent who came in.  (Seriously creepy the way they did that, poor neglected kids.)  DC2 also stopped screaming bloody murder when dropped off. It was tempting to continue paying for the third teacher after the time was over (and DC2 did bite a couple more times after that), but at that point we’d already put in our month notice for the change in daycare.

There hasn’t been a single bite at the new daycare.  It is very much like the old daycare.  There’s two main teachers and plenty of floaters.  There are 10 kids and 2 teachers in the room and a third teacher (a floater) is usually there during the main hours.  Kids don’t fight.  When they disagree about toys, the person who has the toy has property rights and the other kid is reminded of that and redirected before a fight can occur.  It isn’t accepted as something that kids will do (and that sometimes results in biting) like at the private school’s daycare.  DC2 happily waves bye-bye when DH drops hir off in the morning, and for a week or so was having such fits when I picked hir up that I wouldn’t be surprised if the teachers thought I beat hir.  (Though part of that was that ze wanted mommy milk right away, but their parking lot isn’t really big enough for me to feel right taking a space during busy pick-up times so we can nurse, especially given that home is less than 5 min away.  DC2, if you weren’t fussing, we’d already be at home and you could be having as much mommy milk as you wanted!  We solved this problem by having me pick up DC1 instead.)

My thought, though this is certainly no randomized controlled experiment, is that good quality daycares have only limited biting because the kids are busy and conflicts are managed before they really become conflicts.  Some kids have greater propensity to bite than others, but it’s still really the daycare’s responsibility to take care of that.  But who knows!

32 Responses to “Our child, the biter”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    We are close to that 4/1 ratio. 9 kids and 2 teachers. The home daycare we were at was like 8/1 and frankly toward the end, my lady was becoming burnt out and the place became unbearable. Tough drop offs, battles about video game and tv time dominating the day, not enough outside time (she moved and her new yard was a mud pit for much of the year). Glad to have that behind me.

    There is definitely a correlation between behavior and attention. I am glad you are at a good place.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I can’t imagine 8/1!

      • Leah Says:

        In Minnesota, one home daycare person can watch up to 10 kids (and many do!). They’re limited on the number of infants, but I can’t imagine trying to watch in infant plus 9 other kids.

        I’m still on the daycare hunt. Need to go visit the center in town to check out the ratios. I hope it’s liveable — I really don’t want to commute just to take my kid to daycare.

  2. Chelsea Says:

    Has DC2 ever bitten you? Sound like probably not, but we’re having a problem where (almost 15-month-old) DS likes to bite me to get a reaction. It typically happens either when he’s finished nursing or he’ll bite my on the shoulder when I’m carrying him but paying attention to something else, for example, getting ready to leave the house. It hurts and often surprises me so I’ll yelp, and, when I look down at him, he’s got this mischievous grin on his face. Don’t know if you have any advice… Try not to react? Say “No” firmly? Wait for the phase to pass?

    Our day care seems pretty militant about staying in ratio. At least they have when I’ve been around. So far I’ve had no problems with him biting other kids, which is a blessing, I suppose.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ze has bitten me with nursing, I think all kids do. I say no, that hurts owie and stop nursing. There’s some crying. An apology is demanded either by me or by DH, “poor mommy are you ok? Dc2, you hurt mommy. Give her a hug and tell her you’re sorry.”

      During its height there was some biting of Dc1 also, but I think we nipped that in the bud so to speak. (Lots of attention for crying DC1, reminder not to bite and temporary lack of attention to DC2, crying, then apology demanded and a hug and kiss to make dc1 better.)

    • Rosa Says:

      Mine bit for attention. Like once in church he walked up behind me, put his head under my skirt, and bit me on the ass. He only ever bit me & a few other very close people (he leaned over and bit a good family friend in the cleavage when he was nursing age, for example.) He kept biting me for a really long time, til he was 2 or 3? I never came up with a good solution, obviously – eventually he just stopped.

  3. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I sympathize with the biting. It hasn’t happened in a few months though (mine is 29 months now) so I’m guessing we’ve grown out of it. Phew. What struck me about this blog post, though, is that I like seeing daycare problems addressed as challenges to be solved, and often a matter of staffing and procedures. As opposed to baby prison, which is what I seem to read a lot on the internet…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With a good daycare, the kids are generally well-behaved. No comment on the behavior of children at some of the playgroups I’ve been to with proselytizing SAHM. (And, of course, most SAHM aren’t proselytizing, but the ones who are seem to have the worst-behaved kids. My pet theory is that if you’re having a bad time of it you have to justify your behavior through putting down other people’s choices as wrong.)

  4. anandar Says:

    Good quality childcare makes a difference to kids! The biting just happens to be a particularly vivid example. I am daughter and daughter-in-law of early childhood educators, so I will admit to being hopelessly biased, but learning the self-control needed to behave well in groups is a skill/habit that can start really early, if it is supported in a developmentally sensitive way. According to my in-house experts, there is just no way to get that consistently in a daycare setting without good ratios and ECE training. According to my MIL, who does lots of observations all over her major city, Head Start classrooms tend to suffer because the administrative/paperwork responsibilities are so overwhelming that even when classes appear to be in ratio, they are not because one of the teachers has to be filling out the umpteenth form.

    This is very tied to the all of the current trendy concern about social-emotional education, which in my area is currently focused on elementary schools, even though the real action is in ages 1-4.


  5. Sarah (SHU) Says:

    Absolutely agree about the importance of the ratios. A had a brief stint at a cheap, convenient day care w terrible ratios. She got bitten pretty significantly one day and no one admitted to seeing it happen , so that was that. Since changing to a new one, there have been no biting incidents (received or given!). The current one is 1:4. The old one claimed to be 1:5 but always looked more like 1:7-8 to me.

  6. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My youngest (almost 3) is a biter, but she only likes to bite me. She’s never bitten anyone else as far as we know. On the other hand, she does hit kids at daycare which is an entirely different problem. That one has a hot temper!
    My kids go to an in-home daycare and my daycare lady said that kids who hit get put in time-out and it seems to work well. I think she is starting to grow out of it too, which makes me feel better. We aren’t big spankers, and we don’t even yell a lot, so I’m not sure how I created violent children! =)

  7. Debbie M Says:

    I thought this was going to be depressing, but no. (Except for the idea that sometimes little kids “deserve” to get bitten. No. Better to say they weren’t innocent bystanders.) Your idea to pay for a third teacher was brilliant, and the rest of this post was also quite interesting. Thanks!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No, nobody deserves to get bitten.

      Well, except that one time the kid put hir fingers into DC2’s mouth. That one is kind of hard to not assign blame to the other kid.

      It is really nice having the luxury of being able to spend money to solve these kinds of problems.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Well, the kid asked for it. Strongly tempted it. But ideally, someone would pull out their fingers and explain the many reasons why that activity was not a good idea.

        Yes, yet another way that money is freedom! But I don’t think I would have even thought of that idea, so, good going!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        PSA: Don’t put your fingers in someone’s mouth unless it’s an emergency or you’re a fully consenting adult who is into that sort of thing.

  8. Donna Freedman Says:

    Just flashed back on the day-care job I took when I moved to Seattle in 2004. It was in the child care room at a gym. Fairly regularly the other person who was supposed to be there didn’t show up and I’d find myself with anywhere from eight to 15 kids (age range a few months to 4 years) at a time.
    Wildly illegal, but the manager didn’t care. His theory was that the overlap would take care of it, i.e., parents were always picking up and dropping off so really, how long would I be with that many kids at a time?
    (Answer: Quite a while, at times. And did I mention that the pay was $7.50 an hour? Or that he allowed me to work there even before my background check had been completed?)
    My solution was to give my name and phone number to the parents of the kids I liked, and quit the job. Then I started getting paid $10 to $12 per hour to watch one or two kids at a time, in the evening.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve always paid our mother’s helpers over the daycare rate too– one kid for more money than they’d be getting in a classroom! There’s something to be said for efficiency wages.

  9. scantee Says:

    High quality care can minimize problem behaviors like biting but it’s also the case that these behaviors are related to stress and children who experience more life stressors are more likely to be in lower quality care. So it’s hard to know for sure what role quality is playing in this complex system.

    Research shows that ratios are an important cornerstone to ensuring quality in child care and that it’s a fairly easy improvement to make: hire more people. What’s more challenging (borderline impossible) is improving the interactions between teachers and children.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I dunno, I think there’s pretty extensive training in things that work (and what doesn’t work) for preschool teaching. Early Childcare Education Education doesn’t seem to be as broken as K-12 Education Education. The things they do as best practices, especially in terms of soft skills and impulse control seem to work, at least in the literature I’ve read on the topic. (Which is only incidental to my research since I don’t study children specifically.) At the preschool that went out of business it was always impressive watching the new teachers get trained– in a short amount of time they went from being overwhelmed to being able to control a room full of 3 year olds on their own.

      I should point out that in the specific cases mentioned, the private school daycare is more expensive than the good quality daycare– they’re subsidizing the K-12 school with their extra earnings. And both daycares pull from the working middle class. The new daycare just doesn’t take kids under 18 mo and the private school daycare starts at 6 weeks.

      • scantee Says:

        Early care and education is the area of research I’m in and one thing we find consistently is that programs that are accepted to be “high quality” by parents rarely score as high quality during independent observations using standardized measures of quality. For children from middle-class and upper middle-class families that’s fine: they get so much support at home that they don’t really need high quality care to thrive. For at-risk kids, being in high quality care can make a huge difference but since there are so few genuinely high quality programs it’s hard to really to really see a broad impact.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s not the same as saying that it is impossible to teach teachers how to interact with children.

        And the randomized controlled experiments (Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, etc.) from the 1970s do show long-term impacts of high quality preschool education on at-risk kids, especially the girls, even if test-score gains disappear from 4th to 8th grade. Similarly, the newest research on Headstart is showing gains for adults, again, particularly for girls, again, even if test-score gains disappear from 4th to 8th grade.

        The research on KIPP and similar programs is very promising in terms of teaching impulse control and soft skills, although we don’t have long-term outcomes for that yet, and I don’t know of any well-controlled study that looks at those kinds of programs yet.

        And yes, I’m sure all the middle-class parents going to the private school daycare would call it high-quality. If they didn’t think that, they’d pull their kids out, because they can. But there is a huge difference in the children’s behavior and the teacher-student interaction at the two schools. The new school is much more in touch with the best practices for ECE.

      • scantee Says:

        It’s not impossible, just very, very hard. There are programs that do it well but it takes a huge investment to see the kind of real change in ECE teachers’ behavior that leads to improved outcomes for children.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Training is a big difference between the two programs, in addition to the student-teacher ratio. The director of the Montessori that went out of business taught a lot of the ECE courses at the local community college and many of her lead teachers had degrees. They also attended training conferences every year. The new place uses most of the same tactics, has many degreed teachers, and also sends their teachers to annual training conferences. The private school has no annual training and no pre-school teachers with ECE degrees. I’m not even sure if their director has a degree. The lead teachers have been there forever, but there is definitely a difference in how they interact with the kids, what they believe is normal, and what they stress as important.

        And yes, kids at both schools will turn out fine. If that weren’t the case, we would have hired mother’s helpers while we were waiting for DC2 to hit 18 months instead of going with the more convenient option. But there’s a huge difference in happiness, etc. at the new daycare. In fact, the other day we had delayed entrance and I dropped off DC1 first instead of DC2, and DC2 had a fit when ze thought ze was going to have to go to the old place instead of the new place (no no, we’re just dropping off DC1!)

  10. scantee Says:

    Also, there are several dimension of “quality” and there are A LOT of programs caring for both low-risk and at-risk children that are loving and emotionally supportive. For low-risk kids, that’s all they really need because they are getting everything else at home. Emotional support is also important and a wonderful thing to provide to at-risk kids but they are the ones that really, really need strong preparation so that they are on track when they begin school. Teacher child interactions that improve school readiness is the dimension of quality that’s hardest to change though so it is the area where at-risk are most missing out.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think anybody is going to argue with you on those statements. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the argument that it is impossible to teach teachers how to interact with kids.

      • scantee Says:

        When I said impossible I meant impossible in practical terms due to financial and political constraints. We don’t have the kind of collective will and support that it would take to really improve ECE teachers’ practices with children.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ah yes, that is definitely true. And depressing.

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