Does Biting Back Really Work?

Cynthia Dermody

I don't know a toddler who hasn't bitten a classmate, sibling, or parent at some time or another--my own included. (But if you do have one of those, please tell me what kind of water your family is drinking!)

StillHasIt is going through the biting and hitting blues right now with her 2-year-old daughter. She joins throngs of other toddler parents who have posted questions on the topic lately.

"I don't know what to do about it," StillHasIt says. "We take her toys away, and punish her, and she gets put on time out in daycare. But she just keeps going! I don't want it to get to the point of getting kicked out of daycare."

First of all, StillHasIt's little girl and all the others are perfectly normal. They're just growing up! One and 2-year-olds don't know all the words they need to express themselves, so out of frustration, they use their teeth or fists. Chances are, they'll stop chomping when they start talking.

But in the meantime, moms, babysitters, and teachers still need to tell them it's wrong.

Many moms here swear by reciprocation in the case of biting.

alicia_4307 says, "Kids don't know their own strength and they don't know that what they are doing can hurt someone else unless it has been done to them. I bit my daughter back when she bit out of anger. It broke my heart, but it worked. I made sure to let her see me "cry" when she bit me before I bit her back. And she doesn't bite any more."

While the bite-back method may indeed work for some children, Dr. Cheryl Hausman, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, warns that the approach often can backfire.

"In most cases it only models and reinforces the bad behavior, and the child will continue to do it," Hausman says.

Because all kids inherently want to do the right thing and please their parents, Hausman offers another method to try:

Grab a toy and sit on the floor with your child. You pretend to be the classmate. Now, give your child the actual words he needs to request the toy: Please, may I play with that toy now, or I was playing with that, will you please give it back now.  Role play and practice this over and over. Tell him to go to the teacher if the classmate refuses.

But I also like averiesmomma's suggestion to combine both approaches, a sum-up of the Dr. William Sears philosophy:

"Take her aside and ask her to let you show her how teeth feel on skin. Press your child's forearm to HER upper teeth as if she was biting herself. Do not be angry about it. Make the point by saying, See, biting hurts. You want them to learn to sense other's feelings. Don't expect it at a young age. Try to verbalize for her why she was biting."

What anti-biting approach worked best for your child?

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