So there is biting.
But the biting is just an end result of something else and that something else and body signals that lead up to the bite are what we have to deal with. Sending notes or the child home won't really get to solving the biting situation.
On Monday, at the clay table there was a bite. Two children were playing clay blanket covering clay eggs in a clay nest. How could it go wrong? You have to untangle the thing that happened before the bite. Everything was going so well, until it wasn't. See the thing is, it was going really well, but it was also going too fast and got too loud and space invade-y. Then the bite happened. Lightning fast.
With reflection and untangling, it is easy to see a pattern. This is not the first time this child has bitten someone. And there will always be a pattern leading up to a bite, a hit, a grab, etc. Of course we hope it will be the last bite, but why would it be if all those things that lead up to a bite are not untangled?? Look, children will stop biting but struggling with the emotions and ways to express strong feelings will go on forever. Let's start acknowledging this now.
The next day the work began, tailored to this particular child. She is three, she is bright and very social, filled with ideas for play. She plays really well alone, her self talk and story are pretty amazing. She is drawn to others who will play with her and she plays fluidly with two particular children. We had a one-on-one meeting. I drew a map of the pattern that I was observing. I used labels for feelings that children feel comfortable with but left lots of room for her to offer her own labels.
There is a pattern, but there are different situations that will present themselves and the key is to shape a presence of mind to recognize the pattern as it is occurring. In the moment. Since this child plays with the same two children and these are the two children she has bitten, the untangling begins there. With reflection on what leads up to the bite, it was very clear, crystal clear I tell you, that the play gets really deep and rich (just exactly what we want) but then one of the friends will -- naturally -- become too active physically and talkative, resources become precious, and ideas are flowing too quickly.
I drew circles and put the players initials in the middle. I drew an arrow between the circles to show that these two are joined together. I drew little circles around the child-circles to represent the materials they play with or the story lines, e.g. babies, nests, eggs, family, blankets, taking care of..., etc. I drew a flowing line below ("like a river") that represented the play going really well. Then, I added a jagged line above to represent when the playing got too loud, too fast, when ideas for the play was offered by others, or space was getting invaded. Then X. The bite happens and the play stops. We talked about how she feels before that happens. It is hard to hear ideas thrown at you and hard to have people invade your space, no matter how flowing your play river is! That is a truth you can take to the bank!
We had to figure out two things -- the first was the play pattern that leads to the body signals that must tumble out to a bite and two, the bite is a stand-in for "This play is going too fast, you are talking too much, too much information (movement and language) is invading my space." We had to work together to figure out how to express all that in a way that would say it, not bite it. After much discussion, she landed on the "strawberry" safe word after I told her that the old Tracks picked that for their fight game.
The mapping was so effective that other children had to create their own maps. They were not all the same (about biting), but they were all about relationships between people.
It does not end there. Later, during circle meeting, we have to get everyone on the same page. This includes the parents and the children. We are all on the same supportive team. We will work together to help her move away from a biting response to the pattern. I used two toys, a spiky porcupine/skunk thing (it doesn't really read as either, but it is spiky) and a turtle to represent the two children involved in the clay-to-bite situation and blue glass stones (these read as shiny magic) to represent the ideas or play materials the children were playing with. I reenacted the play that leads to the bite. I then switched it up and reenacted a previous play-to-bite pattern. I walked the class through the body signals that this girl feels and what she is working to do when it happens again ("strawberry") because it will happen again.
So, that went well, but then one of the children wanted to know about what he should do when his sister tries to play with his soccer team people and he is has to hold her down. This led to another child wanting to work through what happens when his younger brother wants to use his good scissors (and look, I have a thing with my scissors so I get that!) and another who wanted to work through what to do when her younger brother bites.
All this is why circle meetings are so important. This is why we do what we do, because each of us has some kind of spiky response to people invading our space, taking our stuff, not listening, or coming up with their own ideas that we are supposed to hear. It never goes away!