My daughter is a little over 2 and a biter. I’m so embarrassed, and I’m worried about letting her around other kids for fear she’ll bite them. She’s only 2, so I’m unsure how to fix this, other than an immediate “No!” and separating her from another kid. How can we work to curb this with her?
First and foremost, please know that you have nothing to be embarrassed about. This is not a rare occurrence; it is actually quite common for toddlers and young children to express their frustration with biting.
While some children may have problems with hitting or kicking in addition to or in place of biting, at one point or another, almost every child goes through this stage. The job of a parent is to show children that this behavior is unacceptable.
As children enter the biting stage, it is a perfect time to introduce — and use — timeouts as a method of discipline and teaching right and wrong behaviors. If your child bites, you need to firmly say, “No biting,” then put them in time out (2 minutes is a good timeframe). When you take them out of time out, it is important to reinforce the sentiment again. There is no need for much more explanation, you can’t reason with a 2-year-old.
Using this method repetitively — and in coordination with any of your child’s other caregivers — should help to alleviate and eliminate the behavior within a few months. Do not use any sort of violence in an effort to teach them that their behavior is wrong. If a child bites you, you should not bite them back; if they hit you, you should not hit them back. All this behavior does is show them that big people can hurt little people. This is not what we want to be teaching our children.
If you, together with your child’s other caregivers, are utilizing the timeout technique strictly and the behavior does not improve after a few months, you should speak with your child’s pediatrician. Biting, hitting, and kicking may be physical manifestations of your child expressing their anger or frustration, but if they do not understand that it is wrong and find other ways to express themselves, it may be worth speaking to their doctor to determine if there are reasons your child may be acting out.
All toddlers go through this phase in one way or another, so there is nothing to be embarrassed about. As long as you are addressing the issue and teaching your child the correct behaviors, this too shall pass.
Dr. Lynne Karlson is chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center and an associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.