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The Competent Parent: Baby who bites

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Baby Who Bites

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My almost-1-year-old has been going to a weekly mother-baby play group with me since he was 4 months old. The chance to be with other mothers is so important to me. Otherwise, I have found motherhood to be a very isolating experience. Recently he has been crawling to the other babies and biting them! I am mortified. I call his name—which he knows—and pull him away, saying, “No bite! Naughty!” but by then the damage has been done. The other child is crying, and I’m sure the other mothers all think I’m horrible at this. It’s so embarrassing. I’m sure they’ll soon tell me not to come any more. Help!

Mother of a Monster

Dear Mother,

The best way to extinguish behavior is to eliminate the reward. Just as you are experiencing a complex social reward by being with the other moms, your attention to your son helps him to simply feel connected to you. Saying his name only makes him want to do the very thing that causes you to attend to him.

A better approach is to “shadow” him at playgroup. I know you are craving adult conversation, however, your little one does not yet understand that the other babies are people. To him, they are objects in the room that if bitten, cause Mommy to pay attention to him. A baby playgroup is different from a toddler playgroup in that infants are easier to keep on your lap. There he has your touch, your voice—even if it is not directed to him, and you can add stimulation by grabbing a toy out of his reach, or by stroking, patting or rocking him if he seems bored. Now that he is mobile, his play sphere has expanded. He can wander away from you to find entertainment. But his need for caregiver attention will still be very strong until about age 3 ½. At that age, he is able to use other children effectively as playmates—not objects, nor (as is typical starting at 18 months) competitors for toys.

Changing behavior also requires satisfying the underlying need. Here’s a suggestion. In between playgroup meetings, perhaps you and he can get together with one other mother and baby pair. It will be easier to monitor the children, and you can satisfy the important need of new moms to socialize with one another. Sharing the ups and downs of life with a toddler will help you both.

Dr. Debbie


Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]

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