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My daughter is entering those 'terrible twos', and as a father I want to find the method of teaching her discipline and self control that really gets the point across. For most behaviors, my wife and I are doing (to the best of our ability) ignore/reward: we ignore behaviors we don't want to see, and we reward the ones we do.

But we've run into a problem when it comes to things that are too dangerous to ignoer, and they deal with pain, particularly with biting and with pulling hair. I don't really want to hurt her, but I do want her to learn that what she's doing hurts. I can't seem to come up with a way that teaches her that it hurts. I'm also concerned that she will misinterpret a biting response (she bites me, so I bite her back to show that it hurts) as tacit approval of biting (she might see: daddy bites, so I can too!) If she pulls an animal's hair, that animal is likely to snap at her causing significant damage. So we can't simply ignore this.

When I was a child, I bit my mom's toe, and she picked me up and bit mine back. I never bit again. But every child is different, and thus far that hasn't been successful. The same occured with pulling the dog's and cat's hair. We pulled her hair back in response, in an effort to show what she was doing to the dog, and why the dog really wouldn't like it. We've done that twice, and both times she... well... she laughs! And of course that's not good, because the enjoyment from the 'game' is more than any pain she might have received. (Or maybe she's a sociopathic psychopath who is impervious to pain. I'm not ruling that out just yet... grumble grumble...)

For a while she was biting me every night as we brushed teeth. She did this for three or four nights in a row, and then for no reason quit. It's been two months and she hasn't done that since. My wife and I threw out all of her soothers yesterday, and we're certain she's acting out as a direct result of that, but regardless of the cause, she'll act out many more times I'm sure, and we need to make sure that she does so in a non-destructive and non-pain-inducing manner.

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2 Answers

Children are always watching their parents to see what our reactions are, and they have a pretty significant impact on their development. Biting back, or similar reprisals, could very well lead to her learning that it is "okay" to bite (just maybe not to bite someone who is big enough to bite you back harder!). Instead, show her that you are upset when she hurts you.

What we did with my son is simply demonstrate that it hurt through exaggerated (sometimes, but not always!) responses of how it made us feel.

If he did something that was a little too rough, I'd say "Ow!" very loudly, make a very sad face, put him down, and stop playing with him. I'd also explain that he hurt me, and make a show of rubbing or favoring wherever he hit, kicked, or bit.

This was when he was a year old or less. Now that he's two, we make him apologize (an apology is mandatory; if he resists, we keep demanding one until he gives in, adding in "time-outs" as necessary, but usually he says "I'm sorry" immediately), and then ask him to kiss it to make it better (which is exactly what he does to us when he gets a bump or a scrape).

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Beofett outlines some very natural negative consequences to such behavior that don't have to actually hurt to show your child what pain is. What he outlines are the most natural and effective (while still respecting and setting a better example yourself) way to handle what you are talking about. She WILL experience pain at some pain sooner than you'd like without your introduction of it.

The trouble at this age is that even if they understand the concept of pain, it takes awhile for them to fully understand cause and effect and their ability to have an effect on someone or something else.

I would simply like to add a resource you may not already be familiar with that you can use in ADDITION to what Beofett outlines in his answer. There is a set of board books that includes titles such as, "hands are not for hitting" and "teeth are not for biting" While I do not believe books are a panacea and would never believe they can fix a problem alone, these books are a great compliment to discipline already discussed because they introduce concepts when the child is not "in trouble" already. Often, if they know you are upset, any more than a sentence or two falls on deaf ears (it is a reaction having to do with shame and self-defense, not a purposeful and defiant shutting out of your voice).

The books are ones we used in the preschool a lot and illustrate what teeth (or feet, or hands . . .) ARE for in a positive clear way designed for kids. I'm sorry to say, I don't think the series has anything about pulling pet's hair.

As a side note, you may want to back off on too much rewarding or punishing. Natural consequences are often enough and even rewards can pose problems for you in the future if over-used. As my handle suggests, balanced mama, I'm one of those people that generally tries to live in the middle, and I too, use rewards, but I have also met TONS of kids that were so over-rewarded that it did reach the point of back-firing. The article I have linked goes over different types of motivation and quotes some of Kohn'w thoughts on the matter. He pretty much recommends against is, saying that while it does bring temporary motivation - it isn't worth the cost. I only offer this as food for thought.

If you want a few examples of an alternative, this question is closely related and has a couple of Great Answers - Christine's in particular. So that you don't HAVE to look at links, here is are two quick examples as they may apply to your situation. Try observing behavior in non-judgemental ways and let her reward or chastize herself. For example, "I saw that when you tried and tried again to get that block to stay, it finally did stay." To a child who really did work hard at something this will sound like a compliment and it will be taken as one, but what you are really doing is connecting the effort to the natural outcome. It works on the opposite end too, your spouse may say, "I noticed that when you bite daddy, it makes him feel sad." Is an example that helps you support each-other and helps your daughter really connect that her actions have consequences (Again, A REALLY TOUGH CONCEPT AT THIS AGE).

GOOD LUCK and know you are not alone.

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