Timeouts = Trouble X Two

Our girls are now 19 months old, and they are going through a biting phase. My response is to remove the biter from the situation for a minute. I sit the biter on the step, which is the same time out spot as we do for our almost-4-year-old son. It all sounds good in theory, but here’s what happened last time:

The Biter* bit her sister, The Victim, because The Victim got in her way. The Biter was clearly frustrated and unhappy with the situation.  The Victim, with teeth marks on her arm, was also unhappy. When I removed The Biter and sat her on the step, she settled right down.  She sat on the step quietly for a few moments, and then was ready to get back to her toys.  Meanwhile, The Victim cried because she had been bitten. Then, she cried because her sister got to have a timeout she didn’t.  In the end, I had to “give” her a time out too because she felt she had been further victimized by being denied a timeout.

(* I don’t believe in labeling my children this way, and I assure you they have both been biters and victims, but this was the easiest way to keep track of who’s who for the story.)

Any suggestions for next time?

8 thoughts on “Timeouts = Trouble X Two

  1. We went to see a behaviorist about this very thing and she said that time outs don’t really work this young (at least with our kids’ temperaments). At nineteen months, your girls’ impulse control is virtually non-existent. And even if your children are highly verbal it’s just not possible at this age to logically explain that biting (or hitting, pinching, tackling, etc) is wrong. The behaviorist said to us “Your son needs the emotional experience of having an impulse, being arrested and redirected before he can fulfill it or being rebuked for fulfilling it, in order to develop the internal structure necessary to balance the delight of impulse with the ability to modulate it.”

    If she is about to bite or has just bitten look her in the eye and sternly say “No, biting is not OK.” You aren’t reasoning with her, you are simply providing information. The first few times you stop her this way she may laugh at your admonition (a totally normal response from a toddler- acting on an impulse triggered an unexpected reaction). Hold her until the wave of emotion passes. Repeat the message- “no biting.” After a while she’ll start to anticipate your intervention and you’ll be able to say “Yes, you want to bite, but no biting.” Sometimes that’ll be enough to stop the impulse and other times it won’t. Toddlers are the greatest scientists in the world and all they want to do is repeat their “experiments” over and over again to see if they get the same results. You aren’t going to ever have that perfect moment when you say NO just right and suddenly they get it. It’s all about repetition and consistency. After hundreds of tries eventually the feedback loop will close and they will stop having the impulse to bite.

    This method worked for us- it took about 4 months for us to even realize the worst was over.

    Good luck!

  2. We are so there with you! The biting is very frustrating for all of us. Our current rule is that when the biting starts, the babies get a nap. Usually it’s a sign that they are tired and need to be apart. Our other plan is to set up a pack n’ play in the living room/play room. Biter Baby will be whisked into it for a minute while her sister keeps playing. Most often, it appears that the biting is a result of frustration and being tired. We hope this will help. Best of luck!

  3. haha! Love it! My twins have always been biters. Sometimes they’ll come out of naps with bite marks and I feel so bad I wasn’t there to do something to stop it. The only thing that has helped one of the biters to stop is hot sauce. The other twin loves it and asks for more–along with vinegar, cayenne pepper, imitation vanilla . . . Time outs are sort of pointless when they want to be there. If anyone has any ideas to stop the vampire action, I’d love the tips!

  4. My boys very rarely bite each other but when they do, I just very quickly intervene and separate them. We have never used time outs, they have just not been effective at our house. I separate them and the biter gets a stern talking to and the bitten one gets comforted. Half the time I end up comforting the aggressor because whatever got him to that point needs to be addressed too!
    30 seconds later we move on with our day. Distracting, separating and re-directing are my key strategies. Making a big deal about it almost seems to draw more attention to the biter and his negative behaviour excessively.
    And then the Negative behaviour may subconsciously get “rewarded” this way. At least thats my crazy theory, probably not worth 2 cents!

  5. Both of my girls (27 mos) have been the biter and the bitten. One even goes so far as to bite and say “No Biting!”. Yesterday, they were fighting over a toy bus – resulted in one getting whacked with it. It seems like all out smackdown in our house lately. At least there are moments where they hug and kiss to even it out a bit.

  6. I have a biter (boys are 15 months) He bites mostly out of frustration.
    The book Positive Disipline says they cant really understand no yet. And recommends something that sounds a bit backwards. Go to the biter, the clearly frustrated one first. Show sympathy for the frustration, hug him/her, let them know that biting isnt good, and have the biter apologize (or hug) the victim. Then watch closely, if you can see, right before the bite that its going to happen, step in and help alleviate the furstration or redirect the biter. When the child is old enough, they will understand.

  7. I know you’re frustrated but thanks for the giggle. It was a cute story.

    As far as biting…I’ve always read that it comes from a level of frustration on the part of the biter, and often goes away as soon as they’re more verbal. Several moms in this situation have tried teaching their twins sign language. It may help. Good luck.

  8. On the topic of double time-outs…we went through almost the same thing — our girls actually *wanted* timeouts, and if one got one the other felt left out.

    I agree that at that age, time-outs probably aren’t that effective, but down the road, if you’re using them and one child gets a time out and the other wants one, I found it helped to swoop in and engage the non time-out-er in some fun activity, for a little (otherwise scarce) one-on-one mom time.

    It didn’t always work — of course — but sometimes it did.

    And sometimes I just said what the hell and let them both have a time-out. But in different places.

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