Child who bites in anger may be chafing at limits


April 14, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We would like to hear any solutions your readers may have regarding our 1-year-old grandchild. She now has five teeth. When frustrated, she tries to bite and has sometimes succeeded.

Joann Quinn

West Covina, Calif.

Try to figure out what's behind the frustration that causes this baby to bite and see if you can eliminate it, Child Life readers and the experts suggest.

Although some children this young simply bite on impulse, another frequent cause is an environment that's too rigid.

"I frequently see adults in power plays telling babies 'no' when it really isn't necessary," says Lorraine Smith, a reader from Raleigh, N.C.

Saying "no" often to a young child who needs to touch and explore can indeed cause pent-up frustration, agrees Robin Goldstein, author of "Everyday Parenting, The First Five Years" (Penguin, $7.95).

Fewer frustrations will mean fewer incidents of biting, adds Ms. Goldstein, who suggests limiting "no" at this age to issues of safety.

At this stage, simple techniques like clearing the house of breakable objects, giving children a substitute for whatever they shouldn't have or moving them away from the trouble spot should be enough.

Substitute biting objects worked for several parents who called Child Life.

Cathy Paul of Petaluma, Calif., says she frequently offered her child a washcloth. Barb Croyle of Parma Heights, Ohio, used a hard rubber teething toy.

Edward Christophersen, a professor of behavioral pediatrics at Children's Mercy Medical Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., has developed a technique he calls "time-in." Rather than pay attention to children mostly for bad behavior, he suggests rewarding them with "love pats" while they are playing quietly or otherwise "being good."

If prevention doesn't work, experts offer two ways to handle a biting incident.

Ms. Goldstein suggests saying "no" firmly, then walking away from the child -- just far enough so she knows you are annoyed with her. A 1-year-old is so accustomed to your love and attention, Ms. Goldstein says, she should be startled.

This won't work, however, if the baby hears "no-no" all the time.

"It's so important to limit the no-no's in a young child's life, so that way, they'll pay attention to the few important ones," Ms. Goldstein explains.

In his book, "Raising a Happy Unspoiled Child" (Fireside, $11), Burton L. White suggests another method for children younger than 14 months. After the bite, he says, you calmly say "no," pick the child up and move her a short distance away, sit her on your lap facing you and gently but firmly hold her body and arms so she can't move.

"Don't squeeze, you just restrict movement," explains Mr. White, director of the Center for Parent Education in Newton, Mass.

Wait for the child to show unhappiness, then look at your watch and continue to hold her for 15 seconds. Afterward, Mr. White recommends saying simply: "I'm going to let you go play again, but if you bite again, I'm going to do this again."

This works, he says, because it capitalizes on the fact that babies of that age dislike having their movements restricted.

Talking too much to the baby after a biting incident can be counterproductive, Mr. White says. If you say, "No, don't do that!" in a dramatic and loud way, a toddler is likely to be amused, he explains. "Then you're acting like a pop-up toy, and they find that very interesting," he says.

While several parents advised biting the child back, experts warn that this is not acceptable. Toddlers are developmentally incapable of putting themselves in someone else's place to understand why they are being bitten.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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