Biting: What to do when a child starts to bite

I have a 10 month old granddaughter and she has always been a very easygoing baby. Now she is getting a little cranky and when she gets frustrated or overtired she will kiss you and bite or grab your skin with her fingers and pinch it. Is this normal behavior at this age? It is not all the time but I dont want her to have a bad temper either.

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Your granddaughter's biting or pinching when she gets frustrated is quite normal for her age. There is no reason to interpret her actions in negative terms. She is likely expressing her frustration (or experimentation) in the only way she can.

She will learn appropriate boundaries from your and her mother's natural reactions to being bitten. For example, if her mother is still nursing her and she bites her nipple (quite painful!) her mother will naturally yell out in pain and pull her away from the breast. Mothers often reinforce this by stating in a commanding tone, "No biting!". These instinctive reactions are usually quite enough to readily curtail biting and pinching behavior at this age.

Your granddaughter's behavior is a sign that she is trying to communicate her needs or experience in some way. This kind of expression is not a sign of a "bad temper" by any means. If anything it is a signal that she is actively engaged in attempting to get her needs met through interpersonal interaction as well as experimenting with her ability to impact her environment. It is her parents' job (and yours if bitten or pinched!) to help her establish boundaries that are acceptable for such frustration.

Be patient with her. And restrain from interpreting unpopular behavior in negative characterological terms. Children depend on you to develop a sense of their true (and positive) identity. It is not too early to pay some conscious attention to the messages you may be inclined to relay to a child, whether in verbal or nonverbal communication.

Naturally, your granddaughter's biting people needs to stop, but her assertion may be viewed as a positive motivator for her behavior. More successful outlets for her assertion can be found as she develops. ( This kind of positive message supporting self-assertion can be particularly important in a girl's development.) It is not too early to verbally begin encouraging her, in a sympathetic tone, to express herself, but without biting. Naturally, she will probably only look at you and whimper, but it allows you to feel comfortable inviting her frustration and the expression of it, into your relationship. She may learn to cry louder and squirm in your arms, instead of pinching and biting you!

Self-esteem is built on the premise that our children need a positive reflection of their unique individuality in the world. This includes being frustrated and learning age appropriate boundaries for expressing and channeling anger. Assuming a "bad temper" so early in the game may diminish your ability to see your granddaughter's nature in more positive terms.

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