There is a hot topic amongst the toddler parents I know. For those who are parents of 16-20 month-olds, that topic is biting. The little ones (including the little guy) have been biting parents, relatives, and/or friends for various reasons. It could be because they are using biting as a weapon to get something, it could be because they are angry, or it could be (as is the case with the little guy) that they are just having so much fun and they are biting as part of play.
Once we are all feeling comforted because we know our little ones are not the only ones biting, next we talk about how we are dealing with it. Some parents are not dealing with it at all. Some parents are taking more direct action – and that is what me and my wife are doing. But in order to take direct action, you have to admit that the toddler knows that they are biting and does it consciously. Some parents don’t think they know, and maybe their kids don’t know. But our son definitely knows.
Since it is 2016 and it is not seen as acceptable parenting practice in most of the world to spank, we do not spank. I was raised being spanked by my parents as part of their parenting style, and look how great I turned out! 😉 No but seriously, I don’t see the negatives about spanking that most of the “anti spanking” movement puts forth, because if it is done responsibly as a measured consequence and not as a hasty reaction, it can probably be a fine approach. But my wife is Swedish and of course it seems archaic to spank to them because it has been many decades past since spanking was acceptable. I of course do see that you can successfully parent without spanking, and happily agree with my wife that we will not spank the little guy.
So how do we handle the problem of the little guy biting? What do we do? We immediately take the little guy out of the situation when he bites. So if we are at home, we immediately say “no biting”, bring him to the corner, and repeat “no biting” to him. We stay there with him, stay at his level, and keep him there, sitting on the floor. We don’t stay there too long, but long enough for him to be bothered that we are there. If we are out in public, we take him to a corner somewhere and do the same thing. If he repeats after we take him to the corner at home or in public, we do the same thing, and repeat as necessary. Does it work? You know it!
I should mention two main points here. First, being consistent is critical for this, and having both parents involved and willing to “stop everything” to take them to the corner is crucial.
The second point is that I think it is important to give positive reinforcement when they are playing nice and give them an alternative to biting. So for example for the little guy, when he is playing with his stuffed toys and I see him biting them, I say, “We don’t bite. Can you kiss him?” And then when he does it I tell him how good he is and how nicely he’s playing. But additionally, just randomly when he is playing nice with his toys, me, his mom, and his friends, I also tell him good job. And especially when I can see that he was going to bite me, and he instead kisses me, I tell him how good he is, and how nice it is that he is kissing me.
They way I see it about “offering an alternative” is that it is confusing for a toddler to just say “don’t XYZ.” They need something to replace that action that you don’t want them to do, and if you do not give them a replacement for that action, they will probably be a bit frustrated and confused, right? I mean, think about it as an adult. If you get to the end of a street and there are no signs except for one that says “no crossing,” but you need to get across the street, then you are wondering what to do. But if there are signs pointing you in the right direction, then you can transition just fine and cross the street.
I don’t claim to have any research or expertise in how we are doing this. I just figure if you take him away from something he likes (i.e., playing, or being around other people), then he will stop the behavior that is causing him to be taken away. I would assume if the child is biting because they are angry then there are other steps, like getting to the bottom of how they handle anger, or figure out a way around them getting angry for whatever reason. But for handling “bite for play” toddlers, it seems to be working (so far!) 😉