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My 2.5 year old son was recently bitten by another kid of around the same age in play school. The teachers quickly intervened and separated them. I was told that this is the first biting incident and that they'll keep a closer eye on the kid who bit.

My son was playing by himself with something, this kid wanted it and thought biting my son's hand was the best way to go about it! I've also seen him push and hit other kids. Should I tell my son to stay away from him? As much as I'd want that, I'm not so sure this is a healthy thing to teach. I can't put my finger on why.

What are the cons of telling my son to stay away from him? I know this can be opinion based, but I'm looking for insights on what direct or indirect lesson he might learn from it. In what other way can I teach him to handle incidents like this and keep himself safe? My son's general personality is to avoid conflict rather than fight it out.

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  • OP: Are you asking if fighting back is an option? Perhaps if you explained why avoiding the child didn't feel right, the answers might help you more. Thanks.
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 23, 2022 at 1:12
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    Like i said, I can't really put my finger on it, but i'll try. It probably stems from my dislike of how my own mother dealt with it when i was a child. She would scorn any child that I had the slightest disagreement with, and would encourage me to do so as well. Her extreme protectiveness always put me in difficult situations, and I don't want to be that person for my son. Also, I believe in helping my son find his way out of unacceptable behavior rather than just chastise him for it. So even though my son's safety is paramount to me, feels a little hypocritical to do that to another kid.
    – learner101
    Sep 26, 2022 at 11:02
  • And to answer your first question, no I'm not asking about fighting back. Not in this particular scenario anyway. The biting happened within the blink of an eye before anyone could stop it and any fighting that would follow after is retaliation, not self defense.
    – learner101
    Sep 26, 2022 at 11:11

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The most important reason not to warn your son to stay away from the boy who bit him is that doing so makes it your son's responsibility to stay safe. It's not. (It's not the same as running into the street, where his own action is what puts him in danger.) He should be safe because biting is wrong and people should not do it. If you warned him to stay away, and he did not and got bitten again, it would be easy (and unfortunate) to blame him indirectly ("Why did you play with him? I told you to stay away from him.") This is called victim blaming, and it's a pretty natural - and very painful for the victim - reaction. You can't keep him safe, so you try to teach him to avoid getting hurt by someone else. From the link above:

Bullying is a common behavior among children—and too often the targets get blamed. Aim to validate the feelings and experience of the person who is being bullied, while keeping the responsibility for the bullying on the bully. Rather than blaming or shaming the victim, the targets of bullying need support, compassion, and the skills to respond effectively.

The approach you mention also doesn't teach your child anything positive that he might learn from the situation. I'm thinking resilience, forgiveness, empathy/compassion, emotional literacy, etc. My approach (after first calming down myself) would be to talk with my child, first about his feelings about being bitten. To do this, the child must have a basic (and growing) emotional vocabulary. "It hurt!" would likely be the first response, so some encouragement might be needed. If you haven't started teaching emotions yet, it's time to start.

You: How did you feel when (x) bit you?
Child: It hurt! It hurt a lot!
You: I'm so sorry you were hurt. It hurts to be bitten! (you provide compassion and support.) People should not bite, should they?
Child: No!
You: That's right, people should not bite. Were you afraid? (feeling word)
Child: a) Yes. (Talk about how it's ok to be afraid of being hurt.) (That's the opposite of another way to victim blame: telling him to "suck it up/it doesn't hurt that much/Don't let him see you're afraid/etc.) Child needs you to have his back emotionally. b) No... (praise him, or be glad for him.)
You: Did you feel unloved (feeling word)? (the actual feeling might be closer to disrespected, but that has to be taught in context.) If (partner) bit me, I would feel like (Partner) didn't love me, and that would hurts me inside!
Child: (Response...)
You: (Looking at hand) Does it still hurt? (here's where resilience starts... In addition to feeling angry/sad/whatever, he can be glad it doesn't hurt anymore/the pain will be gone by tomorrow/whatever, and that pain is temporary. Even broken bones heal.)
You: Did (x) tell you he wanted your toy?
Child: He said, "Give me that!/whatever"
You: What might you have done? (child could tell x he'll be done with it in a few minutes/offer him something else/point out similar toy/whatever you think the child might be able to use in the future.) You: "Sometimes that works." (No responsibility/blame shifting. Just a suggestion. Teaches some ways to avoid getting bitten in the future)

To teach empathy/compassion: What do you think (x) was feeling right before he bit you? You had a toy he wanted, didn't you? (More feeling words: jealous/angry/frustrated/whatever.) Empathy is important, because your child will feel negative things sometimes as well, as everyone does. It's human. It's how we act when we feel those things that's important.

For forgiveness, you'll have to reach down yourself and examine your own feelings about forgiveness.

It doesn't all have to be done in one sitting. Some can be done during bath time, the next morning during breakfast, etc.

The most important things to remember: there are adults there to handle the situation. This removes any responsibility from your child. It is never your child's responsibility to avoid getting bitten. He deserves compassion.

There are times when avoiding someone is a good idea, but this isn't one of them.

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    We had a similar conversation. His emotion vocabulary includes scared, feeling bad, frustrated, angry, sad. He said it hurt, but he didn't cry. He said he felt bad, but is okay now. I asked if he thought biting was ok, he said no it hurts people. I asked him what should have been done instead (in my language, its very easy to put it in passive voice without sounding too contrived for a child. I made conscious choice to ask in passive voice). First he just said we shouldn't bite, but after some goading and asking the right questions, he said we should just ask for the toy instead.
    – learner101
    Sep 21, 2022 at 6:29
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I think teaching empathy is better than teaching avoidance, however I don't see a notion of teaching strength in the responses so far.

In various walks of life, we will get attacked. Without strength, we will keep getting walked over by people that are natural aggressors. I think teaching strength is important as well in these scenarios, and to prepare our children to fend for themselves.

Too much compassion with too little strength is not good. Talking from personal experience of where that has led me, I was overly compassionate and not strong enough, and my perspective has changed after being abused repeatedly, and I realized how this was completely out of touch with human nature.

I would use this pain to develop his strength, and explain to him that in life, you will get attacked, so you have to become stronger. Otherwise, pain like this will happen again.

I think this is the ultimate lesson to be learnt from that bite.

I would recommend looking into martial arts schools, and see how young they take children. And start growing a sense of strength in them.

They will thank you later, when they get into real life, and not think they've been lied to all their lives when they realize their compassion is being taken advantage of by people who are not interested in being compassionate. Better to be both compassionate and strong.

I'm not a parent yet, however as a now grown up child, I can give a feedback loop on what I've read above about compassion, where it has led me in life, and how this has definitely shaped the way I will raise my children.

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  • Welcome! A few guidelines: we try (on this site) to avoid answering questions that weren't asked. The OP isn't asking how to teach her child to fight back (the thrust of your post.) Personal experience is a good teacher, but people's experiences differ, as do their responses and their values. I'm old, yet I still believe in compassion beats an eye for an eye. But that's besides the point. The OP wasn't asking for this, I don't think... but the OP can decide.
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 23, 2022 at 1:11
  • @anongoodnurse Thanks for your reply :) I see you're committed to the site, and it's great. I don't expect you to fully capture what I was trying to say. However, compassion without strength is not good. Perhaps another reader will find what I said helpful. Not proposing eye to eye, just saying to be both compassionate and strong. Yes, I'm familiar with stack exchange, been here for a while. For me, the lesson from the bite is if I'm not strong, I will get this pain again. Ofc there's nuance on how to apply strength, strength is a vast topic. But that pain should be used to build strength.
    – Wadih M.
    Sep 23, 2022 at 10:45
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Geez, 2 year olds will be 2 year olds. They will bite, push and hit each other as they learn social behavior. It doesn't make them bullies and it doesn't make them victims... it makes them kids.

Don't panic about it, and don't make a bigger deal out of it than it is. The staff will handle it, probably by talking with the biters parents and they will help teach their kid.

Kids will make as big a deal of it as you do. If they see you stress about it, they will stress about it. If you hound them about how they "feel" about it, they will give you the answers they think you want to hear based on your tone, words, facial expressions and other physical cues.

Your son probably didn't think much of it a few hours after it happened, until a an adult started interrogating him. Think about it... when you picked him up from daycare, did he immediately say "billy bit me and it made me feel bad", or did the staff report the issue to you and then you asked your son about it?

Don't make a big deal out of it. Don't be afraid of the other kid. Don't coddle your son every time he gets minorly hurt or into some kind of conflict. He's 2 and probably generally happy-go-lucky and stress-free. Don't stress him out over a silly non-event.

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    I'm curious as to whether you have children or not. Do you? It's not a requirement for answering but it would explain your answer. I don't see any evidence of hounding a child, panic, or making a bigger deal of things, just normal parental concern. There is overreaction, under-reaction and dismissal. It's a finer line than you paint it. Then there's blaming the mom, and the famous excuses: kids will be kids, boys will be boys, men will be men... excuses that make bad behavior a norm.
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 22, 2022 at 11:38
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    Yes... proud father of a 2.5 yo. No blame of the mother was intended, but the fact is, kids will be kids. It is the norm.... has been for thousands of years. No need to sweat about it now just because society is going through a snowflake phase.
    – mikem
    Sep 22, 2022 at 17:18
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    To each their own. I'd advise you to watch your hyperbole; there was no panic, hounding, or overreaction. Keep it constructive and helpful, and mind the guidelines we follow here about challenging the premise.
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 23, 2022 at 0:57

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