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Handling a Biter

Toddlers who bite get a bad rap, but they're really not that different from kids who hit or throw tantrums.

They're all acting up out of frustration: The world is exciting, and overwhelming, and they can't quite keep up, says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, in Washington, DC. A toddler who doesn't have the skills to manage his emotions or defend his personal space may resort to screaming, lashing out, or, yes, biting. If you're the one he's sunk his teeth into, it could be an attempt to get your attention, or to ex-press his anger and try to gain control.

A child of 1 or 2 can't understand cause and effect (meaning any consequences you try to impose will be lost on him), so chew on this advice for now:

Be firm. As soon as you see (or feel!) him bite, say, "No biting; biting hurts." Never bite your child back; it only reinforces aggressive behavior.

Help ease his frustration. Talk him through solving his problem: "Billy didn't hear that you wanted to play, so let's go over and say, 'Excuse me.'" Or offer an alternative to whatever's driving him crazy.

Watch for warning signs. Many kids get frustrated when they're tired, overstimulated, or in a new environment. Jump in when you can -- and try to be patient. In time, your child will learn to express himself in less painful ways.

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