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Sixteen Month Old Biting

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Dear Dr. Susan:

My 16 month old daughter has begun biting other children at daycare. She seems to be doing it out of frustration or when she isn’t getting her own way. She doesn’t respond well to verbal reprimands. I’m concerned for the other children – my daughter was the victim of a biter when she was 3 months old! What is an appropriate and hopefully effective response to this behavior? At daycare, they currently watch her as carefully as they can, given that there are several other children there. When she bites, I have asked that they give her a firm “NO” and remove her (putting her in a crib seems to be the only option under the circumstances). HELP!!

Dawn

Dear Dawn

You and your daughter need to have a lot of little talks. Honestly, she is doing a very normal thing at that age, because she still cannot use “words” to replace her actions or her reactions, like frustration. She just “does it”, like the Nike ad says. At daycare, she needs to know step-by-step what will happen when she bites, and the staff needs to be more observant and smart about “heading off” trouble before it starts.

Distraction and removal are appropriate for a child of toddler age. Talk to her this way, when she is biting and when she is not biting: “You may not bite (not is too general), when you want something ask for help or point to what you want”. As you say this, match what you are saying with an action, like:

Words: “You may not bite, no biting”
Action: Take her hand and put her hand to lips and let feel her teeth. Do it calmly, do not overreact or be angry, but do sound very firm and cool.

Words: “Tell me what you want. Do not bite.”
Action: Walk her to a private place as you talk, then tell her again, then bring her back to where she was initially.

Words: “Biting is not allowed, ever” (strong, loud voice – not yelling)
Action: Walk her, like a “march”, over to a lowest stair or private place that is not too far away from where she has been, and sit with her on the stair and give her the mini-lecture again. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat, then forget it, and return to another activity.

Rehearse, practice, prompt, remind her, etc., since she is 16 months old and needs “cues”. Soon her words will be there to use and she can channel her “negative energy with “no”, etc. When she does say no, and you want her cooperation, tell her: “Say, yes”. She will. Using “no”, only teaches her to use it.

Thanks for writing,

Susan H. Turben, Ph.D.

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