Dear Dr. Bill,
I can’t get my 2 year old son to stop biting other people. What should I do?
The best way to deal with a toddler’s negative behavior is to administer swift consequences. One can that can be very effective with two-year-olds is an immediate time-out.
I’ve mentioned before that an ideal time-out spot is Pak N Play portable playpen. This should be placed where your child is “away from the action” but where you can still monitor him.
Require him to stay in the playpen until he’s “served his sentence.” I typically I suggest one minute of time-out for each year of age, so for your son, that would mean two minutes.
It’s important that he doesn’t have access to any toys during the time out, and you shouldn’t interact with him at all-don’t lecture him or scold him, just ignore him. That’s because for a two year-old, even negative attention is better than no attention at all.
After he serves his time-out, require him to apologize to the person he chomped on. Model this by saying something like “Tell Jamie your sorry for biting him.” If he refuses or is disrespectful, it’s back to the time-out location for two more minutes.
If you’re consistent with your follow through and don’t give in to the whining, screaming or temper tantrums that may accompany the time-out, you should find that the biting behavior decreases fairly rapidly. If it doesn’t, it’s possible that your son may have a more serious developmental problem, and you should consult with your pediatrician.
Thanks for writing, Britt. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Family Expert page.
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