Age and Defense
By the time he reaches the 1-year mark, he's ready to test limits and experiment with cause and effect. Just as a toddler will repeatedly press a button on a toy to make it sing, he may smack and bite to elicit your shriek of displeasure and horrified expression. "It's rare that toddlers hit or bite out of aggression," says Ruth Carter, an infant and toddler development specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center, in New York City, and a former preschool teacher. "Adults perceive it that way, but what's really going on is that toddlers are seeing how much they can get away with."
Between 18 months and age 2, a child will hit and bite for attention. Indeed, there's no faster way to get you to stop talking on the phone than if your daughter chomps your calf or thumps her older sister. As Carter notes, "Hitting and biting are hot-button issues that make adults respond immediately."
That's what Tamarian Graffham, of Tracy, California, discovered several years ago when her daughter, Bronwyn, now 5, bit a girl at daycare who'd been playfully hitting her with a plush toy. "Bronwyn bit the girl's arm as hard as she possibly could," the mother of four recalls. "I took her home and discussed the whole 'biting is bad' issue, and I repeated 'Noooooooooooooo biting!' about six billion times. That was the first and last time Bronwyn ever bit another child."
And of course, toddlers hit and bite to vent frustration when parents say "no" and playmates won't share. These actions allow toddlers to demonstrate how upset they are. "As tough as it is parenting a toddler, it's also tough being a toddler," Dr. Karp says. "They're slower, weaker, and shorter than everybody else. They don't speak clearly. Since they lose all day long, toddlers love to make a big splash with a hit or a bite."