My Child Bites And Pinches

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

Get your parenting advice questions answered at Annie´s Advice Column
Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie, My child bites and pinches. She’s 2 years and 3 months old. How do I stop it? Please. Thanks, Sasha

My child bites and pinches

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 and 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.

So what are a toddler’s needs?

The first thing you 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 on her wellies or climb into her carseat by herself. 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 trouble. Instead, she wants to know the boundaries of what she can and cannot do. Do I have to go to sleep at bedtime? Do I have to eat what mommy has put on my highchair tray? 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 needs to be provided in a quiet, loving, and consistent way.

My child bites and pinches: So she tries these behaviours, but what will you do?

Biting and hitting are part of figuring out what is and 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 commotion, so you try to smooth things over, even though you’re horrified. 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 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 will 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 look into a professional behavioural intervention service, so you can start life with your child on the right track.

My child bites and pinches: Children need to be able to follow 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 difficult to manage. They’ll bite, hit, scream, and have chronic temper tantrums, all of which are 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 it creates show up in what they do from day to day. They’ll hit and bite, throw temper tantrums, and be generally obstinate. 

My child bites and pinches: 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 that 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 observed children in an African village in Northern Tanzania, as close to our ancestral natural surroundings as you can get, and believe me, even when they’re young, children will use temporary isolation on each other extremely effectively. 

My child bites and pinches: 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 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 on her, 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,


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