Barbara, I have a 13-month-old son, and he is rather wild, but my main question is when he gets mad about anything, he throws a crazy fit and starts biting you. He comes at you with his mouth wide open for whatever he can get to. He even gets so mad at diaper changes he tries to bite then. Please help me, I've tried everything!!
From: Sheena Neal, Milton
Hi Sheena Neal,
Biting is very common, often starting at about this age. Not all children bite, but sometimes biting happens seemingly out of the blue for the first time in an 18- or 24-month old. So you other parents out there -- just because your child is almost 2 and never bitten anyone, don't think you're out of the woods!
Biting almost always is about not having the words to express very strongly-held feelings, especially frustration. ("You want to change my diaper now?! When I'm having so much fun doing what I'm doing?! No way!"). It's also often got to do with this new equipment a child has -- teeth! -- and not being sure what, exactly, to do with them. Why not try biting anything that moves? And then there's teething, which hurts. Chomping down on something, including someone's skin, can be soothing. If you know pretty conclusively that teething is the impetus, have something for him to chomp down on, like a cold washcloth.
Those are the most common reasons why biting happens to begin with. The most likely reason it continues is because parents over-react, prompting the child to do it again and again, to see what will happen the next time, and the next. This coincides with two developmental milestones, the ability to notice cause-and-effect stage ("If I do this, what happens? Oh! What about if I do this? What about if I do it again? Does mom do the same thing again? Huh! What about now?!" ) and the need to feel some power in the world ("Wow! This sure gets a reaction from mom, doesn't it?!").
Understanding why it happens doesn't mean it's OK for your child to bite; biting cannot be ignored. But sometimes knowing what likely prompts it makes it easier to respond in an appropriate way. For instance, if you know he is likely to bite during diapering and you know you have to remove him from an activity he's enjoying, offer sympathy and words to identify his feelings ("You're having so much fun now, you don't want to have your diaper changed! You hate to have your diaper changed! Let's do it as quickly as we can so you can get right back to your play.")
Also, when you know your toddler is about to bite, divert him: "Biting is no! No biting!" Be firm and try to be ahead of the action.
If he bites you, the best response is to say, "Biting is no!" Immediately remove yourself from him. If he's on your lap, put him on the floor and stand up. If you were playing on the floor, stand up. Quickly, so he makes the connection: I can't be with you if you bite. Tell him that: "Biting is no. I can't be with you when you bite." If he does it again, it's because he doesn't believe you. Repeat the same response in the same calm, firm way, but don't -- repeat, don't -- go ballistic. That ends up being a negative reinforcement, but reinforcement just the same.
There are some good books on the subject, including "Teeth are not for biting," a board book for toddlers; "No Biting, Policy and practice for toddler programs, 2nd edition," which is meant for teachers but is also helpful for parents to know what to expect from their daycare when their child bites or gets bitten. In addition, Harvey Karp has a helpful section on biting in "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" and so do T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua D. Sparrow in, "Mastering Anger & Aggression The Brazelton Way."
Anybody got some good anti-biting strategies to share?
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