Don’t Bite Me

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By Elizabeth Lyons

For toddlers, more often than not, biting, hitting, or jumping on top of a sibling is not so much a deliberate act of aggression as it is a result of a toddler’s inability to express his needs and frustrations. If you did not have words to tell someone that he was bothering you or that you wanted the toy she had, at the absolute peak of your frustration wouldn’t you think to bite or hit?

Truthfully, as an adult who does have the words, there have been occasions—such as when I’m waiting for a parking space with fourteen cars behind me, and the occupant of the car with her reverse lights on is taking far too long to reapply her lipstick before backing out of the space, seemingly expecting to be seen by Orlando Bloom as she’s driving down the street—when my desire to use kind, tactful words has gone out the window, too.

Nonetheless, age-appropriate coping mechanism or not, parents often want to put an end to this activity in short order. I was one of those parents. In fact, Jack has a permanent scar on his back that, if you look closely, is quite clearly in the shape of Henry’s 1-year-old bite.

Try to patiently instruct your children on the proper way to handle frustrations that cause them to react in an inappropriate manner. When they bite, intervene and firmly advise, “We do not bite. Biting hurts.” If your child persists in physical punishment of her twin or another child, remove her from the situation temporarily or try to distract her with another toy. (Do that subtly because the instant the other toddler realizes that a “new” toy is in play, you’ll once again have two kids fighting over the same toy.)

Sometimes, biting is done not aggressively, but in response to your child’s need to chew on something as he is teething. If you suspect this is the case, try saying, “Please don’t bite me. That hurts,” and replace your shoulder with a teething toy of some sort. On the occasions when one of my kids persisted in chewing on me to alleviate teething discomfort, I resorted to putting him down after advising, “It hurts when you bite me. If you keep biting me, I’ll have to put you down.”

I had no idea whether or not they fully understood that, but while it occasionally appeared otherwise, neither my shoulder nor my kneecap is a raw piece of meat. Usually, once I removed myself from the situation, he either used the teething toy or found another, more appropriate object to gnaw on (or, to convey his extreme displeasure at my walking away, wrapped his arms around one of my thighs, forcing me to hobble around with a living, breathing, twenty-five pound weight glued to me. But hey, I had to get my exercise somehow, right?)

The reality is that even if your child no longer needs to chew, or throw, or scream, or whatever, the knowledge that it’s ticking you off is all she needs to continue doing it indefinitely if you don’t squelch the game.

*Photo courtesy of Christian Svensson

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One comment

  1. Hailey started biting at 11 months…her brother was a beast who definitely had the gift of movement down better than she. Anyway, I started giving mini-time-outs for Hailey…I just sat her on my lap and faced her away from the action. Then I’d reinforce with “we don’t bite…that hurts” and it stopped eventually. It’s so frustrating though.
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