Toddler is biting mom

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 3, 2012 06:00 AM

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My son just turned 1 a few weeks ago. He has recently started biting me, hard enough to be painful and leave a mark. He only has four teeth, but makes very good use of them. I should note that he does not bite out of anger or frustration. It seems to me that he bites when he's very happy or excited about something (he'll crawl over to me and bite my leg if I'm sitting on the floor, for example). Every time he does this, I firmly say, "NO. No biting." He only seems to bite me. He has not bitten his dad, or anyone at daycare, where he goes 2 days a week. Is there a more appropriate way to help him stop this behavior?

Thank you.
From: Kathryn, Danvers, MA


Hi Kathryn,
You're on the right track, but I would add another step: Remove yourself from him. Literally. If he's in your lap, firmly (and at arm's distance) pick him up, place him on the floor and walk away. If you're on the floor, stand up and walk away. Do this every time it happens and use a voice that is not mean, but clearly no-nonsense. When he calms down (he'll be angry now, and frustrated, that you have removed yourself), tell him in a still firm but friendlier voice, "I can't be with you when you bite. Are you ready to try to be together again, without biting?" Repeat and repeat and repeat as often as you need to.

At the same time, anticipate when he might bite and head it off at the pass by naming the emotion that's fueling him -- "You're very happy, aren't you?! -- and giving him an acceptable way to express it: "Let's jump up and down together!" "Let's shout, 'Whoopee!'" Most of the time when toddlers bite, it's because they're frustrated, not because they excited, but lack of language is what's behind either behavior.

Absolutely tell the caregivers that he's going through this stage so that they will keep a closer eye on him. Biting is a common behavior -- and definitely not a harbinger of future behaviors -- that gets everyone worked up for obvious reasons; in fact, there's probably no other toddler behavior that challenges parents and caregivers as much. "No Biting, Second edition" by Gretchen Kinnell is a great resource.

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3 comments so far...
  1. My son started doing the same thing at about 13 months - biting, when he seemed happy/ affectionate. I tried saying "i can't play with you when you bite" and walking away, and I'm happy to say the biting has definitely decreased. He's 17 mo now, and rarely bites. I give him his lovey too as a substitute to bite on when he looks like he's headed that way. Good luck!

    Posted by Valerie October 3, 12 09:06 PM
  1. We also had a child that would bite & it was above. We would say ow and tell him no, that hurts. We had a child care provider that was very kind and patient and we give her a lot of credit for her dealings as well. It did take quite awhile for him to get over biting but be firm and stay cool.

    Posted by Jonny October 4, 12 07:24 AM
  1. Good advice, generally, but tell me what 1 year old child will really understand if you say "I can't be with you when you bite. Are you ready to try to be together again, without biting?". The fewer words the better with a child this age. Young children cannot be expected to understand complex sentences/thoughts like this one. Many 2 and 3 years can't even understand this.

    Posted by Kim October 4, 12 09:25 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. My son started doing the same thing at about 13 months - biting, when he seemed happy/ affectionate. I tried saying "i can't play with you when you bite" and walking away, and I'm happy to say the biting has definitely decreased. He's 17 mo now, and rarely bites. I give him his lovey too as a substitute to bite on when he looks like he's headed that way. Good luck!

    Posted by Valerie October 3, 12 09:06 PM
  1. We also had a child that would bite & it was above. We would say ow and tell him no, that hurts. We had a child care provider that was very kind and patient and we give her a lot of credit for her dealings as well. It did take quite awhile for him to get over biting but be firm and stay cool.

    Posted by Jonny October 4, 12 07:24 AM
  1. Good advice, generally, but tell me what 1 year old child will really understand if you say "I can't be with you when you bite. Are you ready to try to be together again, without biting?". The fewer words the better with a child this age. Young children cannot be expected to understand complex sentences/thoughts like this one. Many 2 and 3 years can't even understand this.

    Posted by Kim October 4, 12 09:25 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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