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Dr. Alan Greene on Hitting and Biting

Question

My 3-year-old son constantly hits and bites (more clothing than skin, but sometimes skin) and pulls hair. He has a hard time listening. We've tried several disciplinary actions (time-out, holding time-out) but nothing works and sometimes he smirks! What can I do?

Answer

Most kids hit or bite at some point. Those who keep it up usually feel they are getting something out of it. Either getting their way or getting attention (even negative attention), getting their sibling unhappy, or just getting a chance to express anger.

To help them go faster through this phase, immediately go to the child who is bit or hit, scoop him/her up for a hug, while saying, "No, no biting" to the biter. Then say he is in time-out and set a timer for three minutes. Don't give him the attention to try to get him to stay in any particular place or go anyplace, just don't pay attention for three minutes and at the end, when the timer dings, it is over.

For most kids, it is better not to have a "time-out" spot because if they leave, they are getting away with something or you pay attention to them trying to get them to stay. Either way, the time-out doesn't work. The timer is important so that the end is not subjective. After the timer rings, treat him normally. In between, repeat the message, "In our family, we don't bite." Kids are trying to learn family identity at that age. In the meantime, try to teach him alternatives to get his way or express being upset.

 

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.