Question: I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter who bites. She seem to bite her self and other childern. It doesn’t seem to be just one child it’s all.I have haad partens tell me that I am not a good parten and they don’t what there childen to play with mine. I don’t know what to do.
Answer: People often do not realize that “biting” is as hard on the parent of the child who bites as it is on the parent of the child who is bitten. The majority of play groups with 2 year olds will include at least one biter. I’ve seen countless parent-friendships ruined by judgments of another mother’s parenting and by the frustration of an overwhelming situation.
Once biting becomes part of a child’s social repertoire, the behavior strongly reinforces itself. It feels good to your daughter to bite others. Project yourself into the body of a 2 year old – imagine the feeling of teeth into soft flesh. All those confusing emotions – frustration, anger, jealousy – can be released in this simple act. Now, think of the reaction your daughter gets from others as she bites – cries, screams, adult involvement. That’s power to a 2 year old!
There is really only one way to stopping the biting and it is to stop your daughter before she bites. This will take weeks of diligence on your part. You must shadow your daughter, always staying within arm’s reach. Since there doesn’t seem to be any provocation to her biting, be ready to intervene whenever another child gets a little close to her physical space. When you see her face get close to another child, either redirect her or literally place your hand in between her and the bitee. It’s up to you to intercept the action until it ceases to be part of her repertoire.
At 2, you can also speak to your daughter before and after play groups. Tell her very matter-of-factly that “biting hurts and she may not bite her friends”. You can also tell her that you must go home if she bites. Do not get angry with her (negative emotions reinforce behavior too). If she bites, go immediately to comfort the child who has been bitten. Focus all your attention on the bitee. Then, gather your things and your daughter and leave. Do not lecture – let your actions speak for you. She will get the message loud and clear.
As for your daughter biting herself, she may feel frustrated knowing “the rules” but developmentally not have the self control she knows is expected of her. Try to ignore it as much as possible. You don’t want to add to her self-consciousness. Build her emotional vocabulary by labeling feelings and talking about her daily experiences. Use time in the car and before bed to talk about her day. “I noticed you had fun doing this today” or “It was really hard to wait for your turn on the swing today”.
This should help your mommy-friends feel safe around your daughter, though you will definitely miss out on valuable adult interaction for the next month. It may be worth it to preserve your friendships. There is, however, nothing wrong with you deciding to take a month off from the play group if you are feeling overwhelmed. Children do outgrow “biting” as they acquire the language to express their emotional and social needs. You need to be patient (but firm) with your daughter and your friends need to be understanding of your frustrations as well.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.