Hi Annie, My child bites and pinches. She’s 2 years and 3 months old. How do I stop it? Please. Thanks, Sasha
Hi Sasha, That’s a great question and the answer lies in understanding that your child is entering a new stage. In babyhood, you did everything for your child. You provided love, cuddles and took care of her every need and she was entirely happy with that arrangement. Now however, she is entering a new stage.
This new stage is marked by two definitive new needs and understanding what those needs are and providing for them correctly, is critical.
The first need to understand is that because your toddler has gained a few very simple abilities, she wants to show them off to you, the people she loves. Perhaps she can put her Wellie boots on by herself or climb in to her carseat. Whatever it is, she has joy in her burgeoning abilities and wants to share that joy with you.
The other need she has as she enters this stage, is to find out more about her world and how it affects her. Some people misunderstand this as a need for independence and that’s where we have to be very careful because she doesn’t want independence and if you read it as such you can land up in troubles. Instead, she wants to know the boundaries of what she can and can’t do. Do I have to go to sleep at bedtime? Do I have to eat what mommy has put on my highchair tray or if I scream or shut my mouth, will I get something tastier? Of course she doesn’t sit down, contemplate her navel and psychologically examine these ideas but nevertheless, she is driven to find out. The answer to these questions need to be provided in a quiet, loving and consistent way.
So she tries these behaviours, but what will you do?
Biting and hitting are part of finding out what is and what is not ok. Generally children bite for the first time because they’ve seen it somewhere, most likely a little friend doing it. They give it a try and often something odd happens. Perhaps you’re in the park and as a parent you want to avoid a scene and so although truly horrified, you try and smooth it over. However, even though you are trying to ignore it there is a truly disturbed look on your face. Your child suddenly sees you looking shocked or out of sorts. Perhaps you’re rubbing a big bite on your arm and are truly upset. Either way, the calm confident you is looking anything but and as a result, your child suddenly feels lost. Children need love and I’m sure you already give her tons of that but they also need leadership. If that leadership gets provided, then all is well and good and these trial behaviours leave as quickly as they started. If not, they can become widespread and if that’s the case, I’d very much suggest that you looked in to a professional behavioural intervention service, so you can start life with your child on the right track.
Children need to be able to follow someone and that someone is you!
Children need you to be clear about what you are doing and where you’re going so they can follow you. They need clear expectations for their behaviour. That means they need you to provide the boundaries of their world because that’s what makes them feel safe. When you fail to provide those boundaries, they don’t just stop asking. They actually keep going and their behaviour tends to get increasingly hard to manage. They’ll bite, hit, scream and have chronic temper tantrums, all of which are at their base, cries for your intervention and to make those horrible feelings of insecurity go away. You see, children show their discomfort through their behaviour and so if you fail to provide boundaries and natural leadership, you’ll see the discomfort that creates show up in what they do day to day. They’ll hit and bite, throw temper tantrums and generally be difficult.
What are the practical steps you can take?
So what does getting rid of this behaviour mean practically? It means it’s critical to say what you mean and mean what you say. It means offering encouragement and appreciation for what she does right and a consistent approach to her misbehaviour, which is followed through on each and every time. The bottom line is if someone bites or pinches you, you don’t want to stay around them. That’s logical and it’s also extremely natural. I’ve watched children as close to our ancestral natural surroundings as you can get in an African village in Northern Tanzania and believe me, children will use temporary isolation on each other extremely effectively, even when young.
Using limited isolation is a very natural practice
When you think about it, we use isolation too. After all, if I come to your house and you take a chunk out of my arm with your teeth, I’m not likely to show up again. At least not until I think you’ve learned your lesson and come to the realization of how utterly nasty your behaviour was. I’m going to leave you alone, all by yourself.
So what you want to do as a parent is to mimic that isolation for short periods. It’s not about being unkind, it’s about logically stating that if you hurt people, they don’t want to hang around you. Simply isolate her for a few minutes each and every time she does it by turning your back and ignoring her and not making her part of what you’re doing. Believe me, when she realizes that she gets no attention at all from doing it and instead gets to be included in all the fun stuff you’re doing if she doesn’t, she’ll stop. After all nobody likes being ignored, at least not for long. To get more of your parenting questions answered on every subject, please visit my parenting services page.
I hope that helps. All the best,