Scolding does not stop biting

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 24, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

My 2 year old son (a twin) has been biting other children since he was about 18 months old. His behavior flares up, and then disappears at random stages; and we're in the midst of a biting crisis. In the last week, he's bitten a few children in similar social situations; mostly in public play areas like parks, and playrooms where he must deal with unfamiliar kids.

We have tried time outs, and scolding and it is not working. We also need some methods that can be shared among caregivers and family..and applied consistently. His twin sister bites, but not nearly at the same frequency or intensity. Her verbal skills are much better and she has learned how to say. "No", and is more responsive to time outs and harsh scolding.

He'll be starting day care / pre-school soon and we really need this to stop... I don't want to be sued by an angry parent.

From: cheesehead -in-recovery, Needham, Ma

Dear Cheesehead,

1. Forget time-out with a child this age; way too young. When it appears to be working with one of your twins, it's just a coincidence.

2. Forget scolding. A child can't hear your words (he's too frustrated and wound up) and all he hears is your tone of voice which he accurately hears as angry and frustrates him even more. Think of his biting as a cry for help: "I'm out of control, I don't know what to do! Please help me!" When you scold, his interpretation is, "Mom/dad doesn't understand, they can't help me, I'm on my own, OH NO, now what?!"

3. Never say, ``You`re a bad boy." Say instead, Biting is bad." That tells him you don't like the behavior, not that you don't like him.

Not surprisingly, Cheesehead, biting is a subject that terrifies parents of both biters and bitees; we all know our child could be on either side of the equation on any given day. You're right to want a strategy that can be applied consistently by all caregivers.

The solution starts with understanding why biting happens: Almost always it's about not having the words to express very strongly-held feelings, especially frustration. ("You want to play with this toy now? When I'm having so much fun doing what I'm doing?! No way!").

That's the single most likely reason a child bites initially. (Another common reason: teething. It just feels good to chomp down -- hard! -- on something.)

The most likely reason it continues (and I'm quoting from an earlier posting.)
"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?!")."

You can't ignore biting , it's an anti-social behavior that will get your child (if not you, as you worry!) into all kinds of trouble.

If you can, anticipate when he's getting frustrated enough that he might want to bit. Identify and label his feelings for him: "You like playing with that truck! You don't want John to have a turn yet, you're not ready, are you? Let's play one more 'vroom vroom' and then it will be John's turn."

Can you tell John, it will be his turn soon?" If possible, guide him to finish the play and then give John a turn. Or

Other strategies: Be firm and try to be ahead of the action by diverting him when you see where this might be heading by warning him: "No biting!"

Never bite your child back.

If they don't already have it, treat your caregivers to this book: "No Biting, Policy and practice for toddler programs, 2nd edition," by Gretchen Kinnell. You'll find it helpful, too. A board book for toddlers: "Teeth are not for biting." Harvey Karp has a helpful section on biting in "The Happiest Toddler on the Block."

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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5 comments so far...
  1. Barbara, I thought you have said in the past that 2 is too young to understand the concept of sharing toys. Is that true?

    What can she do to protect the other kids? I would think immediate removal from the play area would be in order.

    Posted by Just-Cos May 24, 10 10:12 AM
  1. I have a biter myself (26 months) and it causes me just as much stress. Many many many people have suggested biting her back but I can't..I won't!! thank you for writing this because I get embarrased when she does it and I am relieved to know its not just me who has to deal with this biting baby!!

    Posted by Judgenot May 24, 10 11:24 AM
  1. i have a 2 yr old that has been biting before he had teeth somtimes has bit @least 6 time a day at day care he is the youngest of 5 and he does not bite at home so how can i help at daycare?? he bites once dailiy everyday

    Posted by teresa wagers May 24, 10 12:39 PM
  1. Hi Just-Cos,

    You're right, I have said that 2 is too young to understand the concept of sharing, but turn taking is different than sharing. It's the precursor to sharing,

    As far as protecting other children, when a caregiver knows she has a biter in the mix, she's got to be vigilant and right there in the mix herself so that she can anticipate when a biter is getting frustrated and identify and label, as I talked about above, so she can stop the action before it happens. Removing the offending child is punitive and doesn't give that child a chance to learn.

    BFM

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page May 25, 10 08:14 AM
  1. Biting can be such a difficult behavior to curb. As a parent educator, I have written a website that includes several case studies and lots of solutions - www.stopthefightingandbiting.com. Check out the eight questions to ask yourself and a whole slew of custom solutions. I have found that parents and caregivers simply aren't doing a thorough investigation of "why" children bite. When you take it one step at a time, you will identify the obstacles, see the solutions, and will apply the right kind of help.

    Posted by Lisa Poelle May 29, 10 05:14 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Barbara, I thought you have said in the past that 2 is too young to understand the concept of sharing toys. Is that true?

    What can she do to protect the other kids? I would think immediate removal from the play area would be in order.

    Posted by Just-Cos May 24, 10 10:12 AM
  1. I have a biter myself (26 months) and it causes me just as much stress. Many many many people have suggested biting her back but I can't..I won't!! thank you for writing this because I get embarrased when she does it and I am relieved to know its not just me who has to deal with this biting baby!!

    Posted by Judgenot May 24, 10 11:24 AM
  1. i have a 2 yr old that has been biting before he had teeth somtimes has bit @least 6 time a day at day care he is the youngest of 5 and he does not bite at home so how can i help at daycare?? he bites once dailiy everyday

    Posted by teresa wagers May 24, 10 12:39 PM
  1. Hi Just-Cos,

    You're right, I have said that 2 is too young to understand the concept of sharing, but turn taking is different than sharing. It's the precursor to sharing,

    As far as protecting other children, when a caregiver knows she has a biter in the mix, she's got to be vigilant and right there in the mix herself so that she can anticipate when a biter is getting frustrated and identify and label, as I talked about above, so she can stop the action before it happens. Removing the offending child is punitive and doesn't give that child a chance to learn.

    BFM

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page May 25, 10 08:14 AM
  1. Biting can be such a difficult behavior to curb. As a parent educator, I have written a website that includes several case studies and lots of solutions - www.stopthefightingandbiting.com. Check out the eight questions to ask yourself and a whole slew of custom solutions. I have found that parents and caregivers simply aren't doing a thorough investigation of "why" children bite. When you take it one step at a time, you will identify the obstacles, see the solutions, and will apply the right kind of help.

    Posted by Lisa Poelle May 29, 10 05:14 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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