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Words Will Help Biting Disappear: Sylvia Rimm on Raising Kids

By Sylvia Rimm

Q. My 2-year-old grandson is biting other children. He isn't talking yet and is receiving some bimonthly speech therapy. He's limited to attempting five to 10 words at this point, but he's very smart. I can tell his "wheels are turning"!

He recently bit his 7-year-old cousin and his 2-year-old playmate, leaving marks on them. He's also tried to bite his mother, but she stopped him. One doctor said to "flick his lips with your fingers to sting." Some people say, "Gently bite him back." Both seem inappropriate, so we explain how biting makes people feel. We say, "It hurts them, and they won't want to play or be around you." We also say, "Teeth are for biting food, not people."

My grandson is active and at times has a little glint in his eyes as he throws a toy or does something impulsive that he knows he shouldn't do.

Timeout seems to delight him, although it's age-appropriate for two minutes only, and he is told the reasons for his timeout. Half of the time, he gets up before his time limit and smiles like it's fun to have a special place (the bottom stair step or a stool) to sit. I appreciate your advice on this matter.

A. I don't recommend either the flicking or biting back, although I realize the purpose is for the toddler to understand he's caused pain. He's also likely to copy behaviors, which can make for learned flicking and more biting. A firm "no biting," not too much talk, and a timeout in a crib for a few minutes with no attention helps send the message that he's not to bite others. You can expect it to take a few repeats before a 2-year-old understands that biting is a hurtful action. The glint in his eyes suggests he knows he's doing something naughty, and the timeout on the stairs has clearly not been successful in getting the message across.

When children are able to communicate through speech, biting often, but not always, stops. Once he's talking, you can remind him to use his words.

There's a delightful series of books that you'll find very helpful for your 2-year-old grandson, who, as you've said, does understand ("His wheels are turning"), but doesn't yet communicate as much as he understands. "Teeth Are Not For Biting" by Elizabeth Verdick (Free Spirit Press) is the book I suggest you try first. Other books in the series include "Hands are Not For Hitting," "Feet Are Not for Kicking" and "Tails Are Not For Pulling." Your grandson isn't quite ready for "Words Are Not For Hurting," but hopefully he'll be speaking soon. These are colorful and delightfully positive board books that are helpful with children's frustrating behaviors, which all families experience. They are effective.

Here's a cute story: My granddaughter has listened to these books for several years. One morning, she was flicking Cheerios around the kitchen. Needless to say, her mother (our daughter) reminded her not to flick the Cheerios. Her response was, "Mommy, should we write a book called 'Food Is Not For Flicking?'" There's proof that she received the books' messages.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com.

Categories: Toddlers, Advice, Ideas & Stories, Children,

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