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Your Toddler

Is Your Child a Biter?

2.00 to read

At some time or another your sweet child is going to bite or wallop someone, most likely another kid. And yes, it's embarrassing to have to pull your child off another or to apologize to grandma because her grandchild just took a chunk out of her arm. 

Know that you’re not alone - all kids bite and /or hit. The key to stopping aggression in children is teaching them that there are alternative ways to handle frustration and biting is not acceptable behavior.

Not all biting stems from anger. The younger the child, the less chance that biting is an aggressive behavior. It can also be a simple case of exploration. Young children bite for many reasons, from painful gums because they are teething to seeing what kind of reaction they get. Children between the ages of one and three typically go through a biting phase they eventually outgrow.

While biting may be a normal phase kids go through, it’s something you want to discourage.

Let’s look at some of the reasons kids bite.

  • They're in pain. When babies bite, typically it's because they're teething. They're just doing it to relieve the pain of their swollen, tender gums.
  • They're exploring their world. Very young children use their mouths to explore, just as they use their hands. Just about everything infants or toddlers pick up eventually winds up in their mouths. Kids this age aren't yet able to prevent themselves from biting the object of their interest.
  • They're looking for a reaction. Part of exploration is curiosity. Toddlers experiment to see what kind of reaction their actions will provoke. They'll bite down on a friend or sibling to hear the surprised exclamation, not realizing how painful the experience is for that person.
  • They're craving attention. In older kids, biting is just one of several bad behaviors used to get attention. When a child feels ignored, discipline is at least one way of getting noticed -- even if the attention is negative rather than positive.
  • They're frustrated. Biting, like hitting, is a way for some children to assert themselves when they're still too young to express feelings effectively through words. To your child, biting is a way to get back a favorite toy, tell you that he or she is unhappy, or let another child know that he or she wants to be left alone.

So, how do you prevent or teach your child that they can’t go through life biting others?

You start with consistent prevention and move on to discipline if they are older.

  • If your baby is teething, make sure to always have a cool teething ring or washcloth on hand so he or she will be less likely to sink teeth into someone's arm.
  • Avoid situations in which your child can get irritable enough to bite. Make sure that all of your child's needs -- including eating and naptime -- are taken care of before you go out to play. Bring along a snack to soothe your child if he or she gets cranky from being hungry.
  • As soon as your child is old enough, encourage your child to use words such as “I'm angry with you" or "That's my toy" instead of biting. Other ways to express frustration or anger include hugging (not hitting) a stuffed animal or punching a pillow. Sometimes redirection is helpful; shortening activities or giving your child a break can help prevent the rising frustration that can lead to biting and other bad behaviors.
  • Give your child enough of your time throughout the day (for example, by reading or playing together), so he or she doesn't bite just to get attention. Extra attention is especially important when your child is going through a major life change, such as a move or welcoming a baby sibling. If your child is prone to biting, keep an eye on any playmates and step in when an altercation appears to be brewing.

You’ve done all that is possible to prevent another biting situation, and low and behold your child is biting another. What do you do then?

When your child bites, firmly let your child know that this behavior is not acceptable by saying, "No. We don't bite!" Explain that biting hurts the other person. Then remove your child from the situation and give the child time to calm down. It’s important that you remain calm.

Seeing your child bite another is naturally going to create an unpleasant reaction in you. As soon as you witness a biting episode, your body tenses, your heart races, and even if you don't actually scream, you really want to. The angrier you are, the tenser the situation becomes. You are much more likely to strike your child when you let your anger get the best of you. Take a deep breath, assess the situation and intervene calmly. Remove your child, let him or her calm down and explain (yes, once again) that biting is not going to be tolerated. If your child is old enough to understand time-out, this is a good time to use it. If not, remove the child from the temptation. Playtime is over.

One way some parents handle biting is to bite their own child to show them how painful it can be. Doing what you are telling your child not to do sends a mixed message. It’s similar to hitting your child and then saying “don’t hit others.” Most likely your child will experience how painful it is because another child will bite them someday.

The point is not so much that biting is painful, the action itself is unkind, unproductive and wrong.

When biting becomes a habit or continues past the age 4 or 5, it may stem from a more serious emotional problem. This is the time to ask for help from your pediatrician, family doctor or a child psychologist.

If your child is bitten, wash the area with soap and water. If the bite is bleeding and the wound appears to be deep, call your child’s doctor. The bite may need medical treatment, which could include antibiotics or a tetanus shot or both.

Biting is a horrible habit to get into and a difficult one to stop. Start teaching your child early that momma and daddy are not putting up with it and that there are better ways to explore the world and handle frustration.


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Discipline Kids That Are Not Yours?

Daily Dose

Paddling in School

1:30 to read

I just finished reading an online post from a pediatrician in another state whose daughter has just started kindergarten. It seems that in her state, and her school, they may still “paddle” children for misbehaving. WHAT?!?!

In fact, the school sent a note home with her child that re-iterated the “school rules” surrounding paddling and asked that the parent sign the note that they agreed to paddling. Are you kidding me…what parent would sign a note agreeing to let someone HIT their child?  Parent’s have been arrested for spanking their children in a public place….but now you can let someone else paddle your child? 

I talk to parents about discipline even before their child turns one. Many a parent will tell you I am “the strict” doctor.  From the beginning, I discourage spanking (although I will admit to spanking my own children several times during their childhood - usually out of total frustration and never felt good about it) and begin with some simple strategies. For example when your 6-7 month old learns that they can make a new shrieking sound to get attention “ignore the behavior” and it will often go away.  Or, what about telling your child that you “will not pick the food up off the floor if they throw it” and then following through….they will not go hungry I assure you.

As children get older I discuss re-directing, time-out, taking away a toy.  For the older child it may be taking away screen time, missing a birthday party and for the teens taking away the cell phone,car or being grounded at home with parents.  But spanking and paddling is never part of the discipline/behavior modification discussion. And now I find out that there are still 19 states that allow paddling in their schools!! 

The mother of this child had not been aware of this rule. She could not believe that she was asked to sign a form to allow her child to be paddled. In this case we are also talking about 5-7 year olds who are just starting school where they will begin to learn school rules and expectations of kindergarten and 1st graders. Every teacher seems to have many strategies for discipline and behavior modification. Not one that I spoke with mentioned spanking or paddling. I am not sure that I even agree with taking away “recess” for misbehaving from this age group…(another conversation)  but certainly not corporal punishment.

The interesting part of this story is that the behavior issues were related to little boys “playing guns”  while they were on the playground. The school has a “zero tolerance for acting out play with guns”  but allows you to hit a child???  What kind of mixed message is that about violence? I know that while raising our three sons, despite our protests about violence and guns,  they seemed to turn anything we gave them into a “play gun” and that was long before they were ever even given a Nerf gun. 

Do your schools have policies regarding corporal punishment? I feel as if I have gone back in time 50 years - only all of this information came from that entity called the internet!!!


Daily Dose

Toddlers: Tantrums, Time Out & Hoarding

Toddlers & tantrums go hand in hand. Here's how to make time out work for you!When I see my toddler patients, lots of words come to mind.  Busy, active, inquisitive, climbers, impulsive, biters, but never before did the word “hoarding” make me think of a toddler.

During an 18 month old well child visit the biggest discussion I have with parents is related to toddlers behaviors.  While a toddler may do the cutest thing one minute, the next minute they may be laying on the floor kicking and screaming and having a tantrum. Toddlers are truly like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Parenting a toddler requires a great deal of energy, patience, and consistency.  While many people talk about “the terrible twos” I really think that one of the most difficult stages, as a parent, is from 15 months – 30 months. In other words a long time!! The reason I bring up hoarding stems from a remark from a parent during their child’s 18 month old check up. We had discussed so many topics related to their child and concerns that they had. We discussed how to ignore a tantrum and try to redirect the child after several minutes. We talked about how to begin time out.  I start using time out at around this age when a child has been overtly defiant (yes, it does happen to all of us).  In that case, when the behavior cannot be ignored, I use a small chair in the house and have a kitchen timer handy. I tell the child that they have “misbehaved by ----------------“ (fill in the blank) and that must sit in the time out chair for 1 minute. I typically recommend 1 minute per year of age.  If your toddler will not sit in the chair, then you go behind the chair and wrap your arms around the child (like a piece of human rope).  This way there is no eye contact, and you can restrain the child in the chair.  Of course, the child will be crying while this is going on as they are not happy about being held in a chair. Once the minute is over, go back around to the front of the chair, get down on your child’s level and explain again why they had to sit in time out. Over time (sometimes days, even months) your child will begin to understand that they sit in time our when they have misbehaved and they will learn to sit in the chair alone.  The concept of time out is useful throughout childhood, as you will see when you “send your teen to their room one day”, which is another variation on the same theme. So, at the end of this fairly lengthy visit the father says, “I have one more question Dr. Sue”. “Our toddler puts all of her stuffed animals in her crib. She plays with them and then just adds them to the crib so that by the end of the day the crib is covered with her stuffed animals and dolls.”  He paused for a minute and then said, “Is this a sign that she will be a hoarder?”   I thought I had heard it all but this was a new one!!  I started to laugh as I thought of those reality TV shows I had heard about with hoarders. I reassured the Dad that it is quite normal for a toddler to “hoard” all of their toys in one place. Their crib, or a favorite old cardboard box, or under the bed etc.  They like to “have control” over their toys, and this may be a way that their child “knows where her animals are”. I could not stop laughing the rest of the day as I thought about this. I just hope that the behavior modification discussions did not make him think he needed to “redirect” her toddler hoarding. This behavior sounds perfectly normal to me. I am still giggling about hoarding, very cute. That's your dialy dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow! Send your question to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose


1.30 to read

When I am seeing toddlers for their check ups, the topic of behavior is usually at the top of both the parent’s and my list for discussion.  Once a child is walking and beginning to talk, all sorts of new behaviors seem to occur! 

Parents ask, “how do I stop my child from hitting or biting?”  “What about misbehaving and not listening?”  The toddler years are challenging for behavior as a child is gaining independence, and testing as well.  Toddler and teens have some of the same attributes and it is important to begin behavior modification during the toddler years. 

Time out is the most commonly used behavior modification and not only will parents use this method at home, but preschool and day care teachers begin using this technique as well. This is the age that children begin to understand rules and consequences. 

So how do you “do” time out and when?  I usually start using time out when a child is between 15 -18 months of age. While I try to ignore and distract tantrums, I use time out for biting, hitting and those age appropriate yet inappropriate behaviors. 

I pick a chair in the house (we had a small set of table and chairs which seemed perfect) and every parent needs a kitchen timer to use for time out.   It is important to get at your child’s level when disciplining them as well. Tell them why they are going to time out and then have them sit in the chair for 1 minute per year of age.  (Trust me a minute sometimes feels like forever!)  

Here is the trick, if your child will not just sit in the chair (and many won’t), go behind them and hold them in the chair as if you were a human rope.  In most cases the child will be crying and trying to get up out of the chair, but you calmly hold them in the chair from behind. No eye contact!  Once the timer goes off, you let go of them, go back around so that you make eye contact again, get down to their level, and explain once again that they had to sit in the chair because they (fill in the blank).  

Time out takes time and patience.  If you are consistent about using time out for misbehaving, your child will learn to sit in the chair.  For some it may only take 1 time and others are more head-strong and it may take months of “human rope” before they decide to sit alone. 

Don’t give up!!!  This is a very important lesson for children to learn and you will use time out many times, not only in that little chair, but in other venues as your child gets older.    

Daily Dose

Tackling the Toddler Tantrum

Toddlers and tantrums go together like salt and pepper, you typically can't have one without the other.Toddlers are so cute and sweet. They are learning new things every minute. Most of a toddler's new tricks are endearing, lots of video camera moments. But just as quickly as you get the video camera ready to capture a treasured toddler moment, the dark side of toddlerhood appears as a tantrum.

Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood development. I like to say that they "age appropriate, inappropriate behaviors." The peak age for tantrums is between 15 months and 3 years. A tantrum can look like a scene from The Exorcist so be prepared. Tantrums are usually caused by a toddler's frustration as they seek independence, and are trying to have their physical and emotional needs met, often without a lot of verbal ability (now fast forward to teens!) Meltdowns and tantrums may occur for the littlest thing, and as a parent you may sometimes not even know what triggered the tantrum. Children often have a tantrum when they are tired or hungry. If your child has a tantrum and you are somewhere that you can ignore their behavior, calmly tell them that you will listen when they stop screaming and walk away. Once the tantrum has stopped you may try to distract them by offering an alternative to the demand that started the tantrum in the first place. Don't give into their demands or tantrums, as this will reinforce their behavior. Once the tantrum has ended praise them for regaining control and offer encouragement for handling future outbursts. Tantrums usually do go away, but we can all think of some adults who never learned how to deal with frustration in an appropriate manner. As a parent, remember that while you are guiding your toddler through the temper tantrums it is teaching them lessons for a lifetime.

Daily Dose

Toddlers & Tantrums

1.15 to read

I see toddlers for check ups nearly every day and for both the 15 month and 18 month visit, there are many challenges for parents and the pediatrician (and of course the child). Toddlers are not at what I would call an EASY age.

As you know if you have a toddler, they are quite moody (just wait for teenagers) and they can “stop, drop and roll” into a tantrum in the blink of an eye.  So while I was examining an 18 month old this week ( she is one of three adorable girls), she suddenly became infuriated (her mother and I were really clueless as to what triggered this) and she jumped off of her mother’s lap and fell to the floor kicking and screaming. 

Now, for a first time parent this might be alarming behavior, but for a seasoned mother of three it was really no big deal. Appropriately, we all just ignored her as she laid on the floor and screamed (no, the mother was not worried about germs on the floor either) and we continued our conversation about her child’s less than stellar sleep habits.

After a few minutes her daughter calmed down, the older sisters got her a sticker and she left without a fuss. Her mother had already learned, like we all do, that the best way to stop tantrums is by ignoring them and letting your toddler have some time to “express her emotions” with age appropriate (although inappropriate for older children) behavior.  

Several days later, her mother sent me an email with another picture attached of the same child having yet another tantrum after she found her in her diaper with a sharpie pen happily marking all over herself (the photo above). Of course, the minute she took the marker away her daughter fell to the floor again to express her outrage! So funny that her mom thought to document it and send me another picture.

By the way, she also told me that she had taken practical advice and was working on having her daughter cry herself to sleep and it was working well!  Both the tantrums and sleep were improving by just ignoring her behavior. Back to those laws of natural consequences.  

Daily Dose

TV Show "The Slap"

1:30 to watch

I was intrigued by one of the new “winter replacement shows” on TV, entitled “The Slap”. After watching numerous ads promoting the show, my interest was piqued and I did a bit of research on the background of the show.  Seems that this was a book that was the made into a series in Australia, and now is a new TV drama for the states. (It does have a lot of good actors).


If you have not heard/seen anything about the show it is based on the premise that a child is misbehaving (really awfully I might add) while at a party with several families and their children. When this child gets totally out of line and his parents seem to either be unaware of his behavior or ignore the behavior, another parent (also a Dad) slaps the child.  And so it goes....the real question, “is it ever appropriate to physically discipline someone else’s child?”.

So, resounding answer is NO!  But at the same time this has illicit a great deal of discussion about parenting.  While there is no “right way” to parent, most of the parents I asked agreed that they have been in the position when they felt that a friend’s child was behaving inappropriately, and the parents of said child did not seem to react or discipline their child.  What do you do then?

Some say that while the child “deserved a good spanking” by their own parent, they would never physically touch another person’s child. But, sometimes you do find your self either telling the child’s parent to do something, or at least reprimanding the ill behaved child. It is always a slippery slope.

While it seems more and more parents are taking the “I choose to ignore the behavior” approach, or tell me, “I don’t want to use the word NO with my child”, children do need to be disciplined.  Everyone who has been a parent for at least a year should understand this. Children are like “cavemen”, they do not come out of the womb and understand social mores and behavior. We are all innately ego centric, self centered and want our own way....but parents are there to teach children that the world does not revolve around them. We are all in this society together.  That is what parenting is about...while there is not one way to get there, discipline is a must.  

Limits, boundaries, redirection and a clear cut “NO” teaches children how to behave....whether from a parent, a teacher or a family friend. A “slap”....never in my book.

Your Teen

Stop Yelling at Your Teenager!

2.30 to read

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that anyone who has a child has yelled at him or her at one time or another. As parents, we’ve all lost our patience when we believe our child is misbehaving. If ever there is a time when parents and kids are standing at the crossroad of “Listen to me” and “I don’t need to”, it’s during the teenage years.

Tempers often ignite with harsh words being said.  

While you may be trying to make an important point, aggressive yelling and screaming only pushes your child away and may be doing much more harm than good according to a new study.

An analysis involving nearly 1,000 two-parent families and their adolescent children suggests that such harsh verbal lashings not only don't cut back on misbehavior, they actually promote it.

The end result: an uptick in the kind of adolescent rage, stubbornness and irritation that escalates rather than stops or prevents disobedience and conflict.

"Most parents who yell at their adolescent children wouldn't dream of physically punishing their teens," noted study author Ming-Te Wang, an assistant professor with the department of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. "Yet, their use of harsh verbal discipline -- defined as shouting, cursing or using insults -- is just as detrimental to the long-term well-being of adolescents," he said.

"Our findings offer insight into why some parents feel that no matter how loud they shout, their teenagers do not listen," Wang added. "Indeed, not only does harsh verbal discipline appear to be ineffective at addressing behavior problems in youth, it actually appears to increase such behaviors."

Wang and his co-author, Sarah Kenny of the University of Michigan, report their findings in the current issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers were particularly interested in kids between 13 and 14 years old so they focused on 976 primarily middle-class families in Pennsylvania with young adolescent offspring, all of whom were already participating in a long-term study exploring family interaction and adolescent development. A little more than half the families were white, while 40 percent were black.

The teen participants were asked to disclose recent behavioral issues such as in-school disturbances, stealing, fighting, damaging property or lying to their parents.

Their parents were asked how often they used harsh verbal discipline such as yelling, screaming, swearing or cursing at their child. Most importantly, if they called their child names like “dumb” or “lazy.”

The teens were also asked to what degree they felt “warmth” in their relationship with their parents. Researchers inquired about the amount of parental love, emotional support, affection and care the kids felt like they received from their parents. Both teens and parental depression were tracked.

The study points out that the children who were on the receiving end of the harsh verbal attacks experienced an increase in anger and a drop in inhibitions. Those two reactions prompted an intensification of the very things that parents were hoping to stop – such as lying, cheating, stealing or fighting.

"Parents who wish to modify their teenage children's behavior would do better by communicating with them on an equal level," Wang said, "and explaining their rationale and worries to them. Parenting programs are in a good position to offer parents insight into how behaviors they may feel the need to resort to, such as shouting or yelling, are ineffective and or harmful, and to offer alternatives to such behaviors."

Parents get frustrated with their children and vice versa. None of us behave perfectly all the time. Raising your voice because you are frustrated is one thing, name calling and screaming is quite another.

Imagine if you were at work and your boss screamed at you, called you names and cursed at you because he or she didn’t like how you did something. That may have actually happened to you – remember how you felt, or think about how you would feel. Humiliated, angry and sad are the most common reactions people have.  

Children are trying to find their way in life; parents are their guides. The next time you feel you’re on the verge of screaming or saying hurtful things to your child - walk away. Give yourself time to cool down and find a better way to communicate.

People say kids are resilient and get over things quickly. Many are able to bounce back when bad things happen, but that saying is too often used to excuse bad behavior on a parent’s part. If you’ve crossed the line with your child, say you’re sorry and come up with better ways to handle your frustration and anger.

Words and tone matter and the best teaching method is by example. You can help your child learn what love, patience, tolerance, compassion and respect are by being an example of those very qualities.

Source: Alan Moses,


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Struggling with feeding your kids healthy (er) meals. Rule of thumb: don't stress over it!


Struggling with feeding your kids healthy (er) meals. Rule of thumb: don't stress over it!

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