Reining in reaction may curb biting


July 09, 2000|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. My 22-month old daughter hits and bites me when I tell her no or ask her to do something. She also tries to bite the rug or whatever is near her. When she is trying to bite or hit, she growls like a dog.

I have tried to stop her by telling her it is not nice and that it hurts. I have also used timeouts. These have not worked. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Most toddlers go through phases of biting and hitting when they are frustrated or angry. The more you react, the more you may be reinforcing her behavior.

I certainly agree with what you are doing, but I would advise you to stay as calm as you can. The most effective way I've found to deal with such behavior is to put the child down and walk away from her, saying, "I don't like that." Just make sure that she's in a safe place to be alone.

The biting at the rug worries me a little because it is unusual. A few children who are this violent in their behavior may need to have a physical checkup. Consult your pediatrician or nurse practitioner about pica (eating substances that are not food) or anemia. But the biting may just be a "touchpoint" that she's going through before she develops into a new phase.

Be sure to use positive reinforcement when she doesn't bite or overreact. Tell her: "Good for you!"

Address questions to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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