Doctor Betti
Dr. Betti Hertzberg Ressler is a Board Certified Pediatrician on staff at Miami Children's Hospital. Dr. Hertzberg developed the toilet training video "Let's Go Potty." She is the co-author of "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies for Children."

Biting and Kicking

Question: My 20 month old son hits, bites, and kicks. He is not aggressive in that he smiling the whole time, but I want to teach him to stop. What can I do?

Answer: At the ripe old age of 20 months, it's not surprising that your son has picked up some ways of getting attention. Is it possible that when he started teething and began to comfort himself by knawing on flesh, he caused the adults to smile and (giggle) because it was cute? I'm as guilty as anyone on that count!

When those little pegs break through, your child takes comfort in chomping on whatever is available in order to make his gums feel good. Teething rings work, but who can resist a nice soft cheek?

Many things that a child mimics are things that have seen either on television or in real life. It only takes one look and it can be repeated! Whether it's a bite or a swing. It may be an innocent gesture or a "fun thing" that is repeated. Right from wrong is not part of the concrete thinking of a toddler. No reason for it. It's just something that causes a response. Early on they learn what buttons to push!

Consistency and appropriate gestures (ie: if it's not the right thing to do, we don't laugh) is only one of the hard things we as parents have to be able to model to our children. As hard as it may appear, being a role model, is probably one of the hardest things that we can do and one of the most solid things to ingrain in our children as they grow.

How can we undo that which has been done? Backtrack and each time an undesirable behavior is exhibited, less attention is given to that particular behavior. It is said that if you want something to go away, don't reinforce it. In other words, the less attention paid to a behavior, the less important it becomes. There are always new things to focus on! Distraction is great. Change the subject matter and re-focus.

Good luck,
Dr. Betti Hertzberg

Also see:

  • Does Strep Throat lead to Scarlet's Fever?
  • Can a pediatrician comfortably prescribe and manage ADHD medication or is it better suited to a psychiatrist?
  • Ask Dr. Betti your questions

    This information is not intended to be a substitute for visiting your pediatrician. If you or your child has specific concerns, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.