Friday, August 10, 2012

Ask Dr. Momsie - Biting

One of my darlingist readers asked,

"Hello! I have an almost three year old daughter an an almost two year old son. My daughter has been a biter since very early on in life. It has been a constant struggle. I feel like I say "We don't bite our friends" or brother or that matter ALL. DAY. LONG. My main concern at this point is that this has been occurring for almost two years now, without much progress...suggestions?!"

Biting can be a real pain (sorry, bad pun).  Many toddlers go through phases of biting, oftentimes because they don't have the language abilities to express themselves.  Biting from frustration is usually easily dealt with by talking to your child about how to handle frustration, alternative responses, and the reasons why we don't bite.  However, it sounds like your daughter may be a different kind of biter.

Some children develop a habit of biting, or even bite to be ornery.  They don't respond to a firm talking-to, and the child begins to use biting as a response to any and all frustration.  Eliminating this type of biting might take a little more punitive intervention. 

First, resist the urge to bite your daughter back.  Really, lots of parents do this to "show them how it feels."  Not only is it a bit immature for an adult to bite back a child, it sets a bad example.  Instead, think Super Nanny. What's Super Nanny's answer to every behavioral concern?  Time-out!

Many parents say, "Well, I've tried time-out and it doesn't work."  Yes, some children make time-out a real challenge for momsie.   But, may I suggest you try again in this step-by-step manner?  Remember, be consistent, firm, and non-emotional (ie. no screaming).  Also, as with any behavior change, expect the behavior to increase before it decreases.  This is called an "extinction burst" and it means that your consequence is working!
  1. Create a time-out chair, mat, bench, corner, etc.  This place should be far from any reinforcement - no t.v., toys, objects they can bang or play with.  Remember, children can make anything into a toy.  The time-out area should be a place where you can keep an eye on the child (so, not in their bedroom with the door closed.)
  2. When your daughter bites, give her a firm verbal warning.  "No biting.  The next time, you go to the time-out chair."  The end.
  3. The second time she bites, escort her to the time-out chair.  Say, "Time-out for biting.  You have three minutes."  Time out should last one minute for each year of the child's age.  So, an 18 year-old would have an 18 minute time-out (yes, it would be ridiculous to do time-out with a teenager :))
  4. Have an egg timer nearby (but out of reach) where you can set the three minute time. 
  5. If your child begins talking, gets out of the seat, etc.  Say, "Your time begins when you are quiet and sitting."  Then, restart the timer.
  6. Do not engage or give attention to a child that is in time-out.  If you have to reset the timer or guide them back to their seat, do so with as little interaction as possible.  Keep an eye on them, but do not engage.
  7. If your child refuses to sit (as many do), physically place them in the seat.  This should not be done forcefully and brutally, but some children will need to be repeatedly placed in the seat until the comply.  It may be exhausting, but if you are consistent, your child will get the picture.  Again, if they get out of the seat, reset the timer, even if they only had two seconds left.
  8. When the timer dings, go to the chair and briefly talk about why they were in time-out and give hugs.  The hugs are important, as they're reinforcement for completing the time-out and they are relationship building.  Also, your child will then need to apologize to whomever they bit.
  9. Expect the first few time-outs to take a very long time (even an hour) to get right. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, angry, yelling, or otherwise losing your cool, give yourself a time-out and deal with the behavior later.  It's very important that time-out doesn't become a power struggle.  Remind yourself that your patient efforts will pay off!  You can do it! 
Pair this time-out plan with an incentive like a big yummy ice cream cone for no biting incidents in a whole day, and you're golden and bite-free.  And, just in case your little chomper is biting to gain attention, make sure she's getting lots of hugs and positive interaction from momsie. 

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

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