RE: Double the Biting?
By Cheryl Lage
My daughter's twin daughters bite each other. I'm not talking about nipping. They really hurt each other. My daughter and her husband are at their wits end. The girls turned two in January. Any advice would be well received.
As sorry as I am about your daughter’s family being at “wit’s end”, and believe me, I can certainly empathize; let me say I commend her (and you) for wanting to address it immediately.
Your daugher’s family is far from alone in their confrontation of, and attempts to eliminate, toddler biting. So many parents of singletons are alerted by daycare and preschools that their children are “biters”. In twin families, many parents are often forced to address the issue early in the home environment...as a sibling peer victim is always “in range”.
All sorts of theories abound about the “whys” of biting: rapid emotional development, the inability to communicate effectively, unwillingness to “share” (hence the frequency of daycare, preschool and twin-family biting manifestations), general frustration, and “it’s just a phase” being offered as possible catalysts for the vampiric violence.
Regardless of the reasons for the biting (or any other pain-inflicting practice), understanding the “whys & how-comes” do little to change or alter the behavior.
Personally, I find it extremely unfair to children when their parents rationalize unacceptable behavior just because they can “explain” what causes it. If a parent is caring enough to work toward understanding the provocation, ideally they should care enough to not merely eliminate (if possible) the situations that cause the behavior, but to clearly enact a parental response pattern that demonstrates that the behavior, however “understandable” will not be tolerated. Period.
Even if the children are perceived as “too young” to fully (or even partially) comprehend the consequences of their inappropriate behavior, by not making any parental attempt to correct/instruct from the very onset of infraction, the children will be thoroughly confused when at some chronologically pre-deemed age marker, suddenly, previously “allowed” behaviors meet with unfortunate repercussions.
At the risk of a bad pun, let’s see what we can do to nip it in the bud.
My guess is that your daughter and her husband have already tried numerous “disciplinary” measures at this point. Tell them not to be discouraged! Just because a behavior doesn’t cease immediately, does not mean that the negative effect of the twins’ biting action has gone unnoticed by her twosome. My guess is, quite the contrary.
I know in our house, odd as it seems, sometimes a new negative behavior will intensify upon “punishment”. The infraction will be repeated not only by the initial instigator, but by his/her partner in crime...seemingly over and over and over again.
Unfortunately, as twin parents, we feel we are so constantly (especially around the mythic “twos”) “correcting” to no avail...that one or both twins don’t take our disciplinary steps seriously enough to alter their behavior...so instead, we alter ours as parents, and try multiple different corrective methods.
The twins are seeking a consistent response. If a bite is met with a time-out once or twice, and then a removed privilege or treat on time number three, and a retried time-out on the fourth occurence, then by only a firm “NO!” from an overtaxed parent on violation #5...believe me, if they haven’t already, twin number two will try to determine what happens when he/she bites.
Yes, all the responses are “negative”, so thankfully, they are learning that biting is “bad”; but they are trying to learn X cause = X effect.
Many of the milestones they have reached thus far have been the result of that type of call-to action=response curiosity.
When I cry, Mommy or Daddy changes my diaper.
When I wave “Bye-Bye”, others wave back.
When I say “Mama”, she smiles and takes care of me.
Imagine the confusion when “I bite, and either A, B, C, D, or E happens.” All are unpleasant, but I don’t really know what is going to happen...guess I need to keep trying until I find out for sure.
I know that may sound like oversimplification, but it is logic I have been unable to deny...and it seemingly works. By “works” I don’t mean it all less-than-attractive behavior comes to an ardently-prayed-for screeching halt, but with consistency, our twins “learn” quicker that the repercussions of their actions ARE going to be met with the same, predictable, unenjoyable result.
Case in point: The other day upon exiting the bathroom, I rounded the corner to see my now three year old son sitting on the bottom step (our time-out locale). When I asked why he was there, he responded, “I hit Sarah” (his twin sister). Whether he self-imposed his own punishment, or whether Sarah reminded him of the ramifications of his actions, I don’t know...but it was a proud moment for me. Amazingly, it was a proud moment for him as well. He was clearly proud that he “knew” what was supposed to happen.
My advice (to take, leave, or use as a leaping point) for your daughter is to (along with her husband so the twins know Mom & Dad respond the same exact way) determine what the workable currency is in their house...and bear in mind with actions like biting/hitting/kicking immediacy of response is key...the twins need to know RIGHT THEN their actions have resultant consequences. (e.g. don’t attempt to take away tomorrow’s video privilege with a set of two-year-olds.)
Certainly the twins need to be separated upon a bite, and instigator goes to time-out* or experiences whatever the assigned punishment is in their house for biting. (*which should be isolated in a safe place with no stimuli. At age two, we used the cribs, and experienced none of the oft-rumored ill-effects regarding negative sleep associations. The crib is a pleasant story reading place with sleepy, cozy toys at night. For timeout? It was stripped and solitary. There was no confusing it! Now at 3, we use the bottom step.) In tandem with the application of the “punishment” a verbalization of the fact that “We don’t bite. It hurts people and is not how we treat each other.” should be given. Again, whether two-year-old fully comprehend or not, it almost doesn’t matter. If they don’t already, eventually, they will. We all learn by repetition.
For intensified or back-to-back/second consecutive offense infractions, we do a repeat offender measure of time-outing the moment’s toy of choice. (e.g. Thomas, Elmo doll, you name it.) And another verbalization of “Biting is wrong. We won’t allow you to do it.”
In short, the punishment must be exactly that....a punishment.
Yes, childhood should be happy; but you will have socially unacceptable adults if the child’s perpetual “happiness” supercedes the necessity for teaching appropriate behavior. As much as I wish it was my job to raise happy children, to my way of thinking, it isn’t. My real job is to raise socially fluent people who know life is respendent with limits and expectations...and how best to respond to them. Ideally, they’ll be happy as a result.
Readers Digest version?
Negative behavior should always result in a negative response.
And the corollary: Positive behavior should always result in positive response.
For twin parents, the process is undeniably exhausting. So often you feel you have spent the entire day “correcting” negative behaviors, that when things are finally calm and quiet, you forget that wait a minute....things are calm and quiet! The kids are playing nicely together...or happily by themselves.
Those are pivotal moments to verbally acknowledge to the twins (whether together or separate) “Wow! You are getting so big! Look how nicely you all are playing/reading/sharing. I am so proud of you!” Then be sure to reinforce that desirable behavior with a big hug and kiss. You’ll see the positive repeating itself over and over to determine if the affectionate response is 100% predictable as well. Make sure it is!
For us as parents to step back a minute on those inordinately tiresome days and actively LOOK for a good behavior is reassuring, and rejuvenating.
Please let your daughter know I have been there, and to please not be too discouraged with the duration it sometimes takes for ickky behaviors to cease entirely. Twins in particular seem to test boundaries repeatedly. Waverings in response, or just the sheer desire to “look away” parentally will elongate that already challenging window of time.
I am rooting for her, and if she needs an e-ear to vent to, I’d be happy to accept a rant of frustration. It is HARD, but with consistent response, each infraction will hopefully bring her that much closer to the last she’ll have to correct.
She is lucky to have your support. Please keep in touch and let me know how all are faring.
Feel free to contact me with your experiences in twin potty-training, or with any twin parenting dilemnas you may have at http://www.twinsights.com. I hope to hear from you!