How to Stop Your Child from Biting
What Usually Works - After A Little While
Babies nearing a year old and those just over a year old may discover biting. This biting isn't usually an act of aggression. When parents react to the biting the baby discovers he can get a reaction - and that's the thing that makes the baby bite again (and sometimes again).
When biting is at this age, it's tempting to just wait it out. The wait, however, is a long one when a one-year-old bites several times a day.
Trying to prevent situations that encourage the baby to bite can help reduce the problem. My daughter, at about ten months old, discovered that it was funny to bite the back of my hand, as I pushed the shopping cart with her in the infant seat. I would be minding my business, conscientiously keeping my hand on the cart's handle, when - all of a sudden, as I was reading the cereal box - my hand would be bitten.
Once I realized it had become a regular thing I knew enough to make sure she had a cat food box (with a big picture of cat's face on it) to look at while we shopped. Also, I would give her a piece of cheese or some other snack. One-year-olds can be kept busy with food.
The biting incidents were reduced, but even then I'd see her head start to dip down toward my hand. I found that a very calm, but clearly firm, "non-reaction" was effective. I would calmly take my hand away, look at her (without a shred of reaction in my eyes), and calmly say, "No. You don't do that." The effective "non-reaction" should be sober, low-key, firm, calm, authoritative, and non-emotional.
After a while the biting stopped. I suspect it was that she outgrew that phase, rather than my method. Still, at least I knew that I had not encouraged more biting during the time when it was a problem. (My son didn't bite at that age, but he discovered face-slapping - another fun thing for almost-ones to do.)
When children around two years old bite it isn't that "Hey-I-know-what-would-be-fun" kind of biting. Instead, some children this age bite out of frustration, which sometimes turns into anger. (Maybe they learned that it was effective back when they were one - I don't know.) The good thing about two-year-olds, though, is that they are old enough to understand what you are saying when you say, "You can't bite. We don't let anyone hurt you, and you are not to hurt anyone else."
Two-year-olds are very new to realizing they are independent little people, but they're brand new at dealing with the frustrations that come from being both newly independent and uncertain about many things. If a playmate casually takes a toy from them they aren't happy about it. If a parent stops them from opening the refrigerator door they get angry.
Most two-year-olds, like one-year-olds, will also grow out of this. In the meantime, there are two aims: 1) to reduce the situations that potentially invite biting and 2) to teach the child that biting will not be tolerated.
Reducing situations where biting may occur may mean not allowing a two-year-old who bites to play with other toddlers without an adult keeping an eye of both children. If the playmate takes a toy the adult can intervene on behalf of the "biter", explaining to the other child, "Freddy was playing with that. You can have your turn in a minute." What this does is show "Freddy" (the biter) that someone will stand up for him when he is feeling assaulted. It will also show him an example of how problems can be straightened out with words and a plan.
When the adult hasn't been fast enough to stop the playmate from taking Freddy's toy, the next option is to intervene before Freddy bites. Heading off the biting, and telling Freddy (in a calm but firm voice), "You cannot bite. If you try to bite again you won't be able to stay and play," will help Freddy to get practice in having his urge to bite interrupted. Telling Freddy, "You cannot play with other children if you try to bite" will let Freddy know he won't get to enjoy playmates with his unacceptable behavior.
It shouldn't take too long before Freddy learns to interrupt his own urge to bite.
The same kind of approach can be used if a child tries to bite a parent who has upset him: 1) Try to eliminate scenarios that invite biting and 2) Be quick enough to head off the bite, while calmly expressing that biting is unacceptable. If biting occurs when the child has a "Terrible-Two" temper tantrum try to reduce the number of frustrations that cause the tantrums. Two-year-olds don't like surprises and do like to have some control over what they do. Sometimes telling a child about the plans for the day, or giving him a couple of limited choices about things that affect him, can keep tantrums to a minimum.
Telling a two-year-old ahead of time, "Even though we usually watch Barney after lunch, today we're going to go to the store. Won't that be a good thing to do?" can make him feel he's been let in on the plans. Adding something like, "When we go to the store, do you want to get plain crackers or Gold Fish?" adds to the child's sense of sharing in the plans.
Talking about not biting should not be reserved for crisis moments. During driving time or bath time parents can talk about all kinds of things with the child. Talking nicely about how people shouldn't bite, and how children who bite won't have friends, will be more understood than many parents realize.
Finally, the method recommended by Jo Frost, television's "SuperNanny", does work with children over two. SuperNanny instructs parents to establish a "Naughty Chair" or "Naughty Step, a chair or step to be used when the child misbehaves.
Her method is to calmly remove the child from the situation (for example, the scene of the biting episode), tell him once why he's being placed on the "Naughty Chair", say nothing else, and use his age to determine how long he will be left there. (A two-year-old would be left for two minutes, a four-year-old would be left for four minutes.)
Parents are instructed to return to the child when the time is up, ask him to say he's sorry for what he did, hug him, and allow him to leave the chair (or step).
Not all two-year-olds bite, but two is the time when those who do generally learn that they shouldn't bite. Life is not quite as upsetting when you're three years old. Three-year-olds, too, have usually managed to polish their social skills.
When children three or older bite parents can use SuperNanny's technique, although they may want consider getting professional guidance with their child, since biting is usually a problem reserved for the under-three set.