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Am I being a bad parent... by not saying 'no' when my toddler bites me?

One mum is wondering if she needs to be stricter with her little one.

“OW! YOU’RE HURTING mummy/daddy!”

If you’re the parent of a toddler or young child, you’ve no doubt had your hair pulled or arm bitten by an excited or frustrated little one who hasn’t yet learned to express emotions through speech.

While it’s important to teach kids right from wrong, that line becomes blurred when you know they’re not trying to hurt you out of anger or aggression. So what’s the best approach – and how can you ensure you’re not dealing with teethmarks on your arms for the next five years?

Each week in our new series, Am I Being A Bad Parent?, we hear from a reader who can’t figure out if they’re on the right track with a parenting decision, or if they’ve gotten something 100% wrong. To get a balanced view of the situation, we put the dilemma to a group of Irish parents, keeping things anonymous to encourage honest answers.

This week’s dilemma

Am I being a bad parent… by not saying ‘no’ more when my toddler son bites? My one-year-old bites us when he gets really hyper or excited. It’s quite painful, but I know he’s not doing it maliciously or out of aggression. However, he becomes really upset if I even kindly say ‘no’ or ‘ouch, that hurts mummy’, and I then end up caving in and comforting him. I feel like I’m building a habit of comforting him when I should be saying ‘no’ or letting him cry it out instead. It’s hard to know what to do. Am I being unreasonable by giving in?

Our anonymous readers’ responses

Yes, you’re definitely being unreasonable. The fact is this child’s behavior is unacceptable and you are not doing him any favours if you allow it to go on. A one year old’s teeth may hurt but what happens when he is four or six, or ten or fifteen and he is hurting other people? I don’t think you’re being firm enough.

No, you’re not being unreasonable, but you need to work on your approach. We had this issue with my son too, at just over the one year mark. Kids need to understand this is ‘not something we do’. Try saying ‘no’, but then immediately follow up with an alternative. What we did was to say that ‘mouths are not for biting, they are for kisses’ and make him do that instead. If you focus more on a positive action (the kisses), that might deflect the upset while simultaneously correcting the behaviour.

Yes, I think you’re being unreasonable. Letting this go on will result in more trouble down the line in play groups or crèche – so you have to be firm even at one year old. The old fashioned approach was to bite back. I’m sure it’s totally non PC now!

So what’s the final tally? Is our reader being unreasonable?

Yes – 2

No – 1

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

More: Am I being a bad parent by… using screentime to keep my child quiet?

Help! Am I being unreasonable? We’re looking for parenting dilemmas from our readers for our Am I Being A Bad Parent? feature. Drop us a line with your reader dilemma on

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