Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I work with preteen and teenage girls. For the most part, they are happy, silly, fun creatures. I love how smart they are and how they attack problems head on. It is truly inspiring.

The downside is that I also get to see what happens when things go awry. The thing that frightens me most is when they hurt themselves in order to relieve stress or calm themselves. You've seen it on the news: cutting. Some girls who are in extreme circumstances cut themselves to relieve the stress or anxiety they experience. It is truly frightening to me that girls would do this.

After the day care teacher talked with us about Gracie and Luke's stress levels, I started paying closer and closer attention to their behavior. In the last 2 weeks, a disturbing trend has developed. Gracie gets very frustrated and may hit or bite Luke. If one of us sees her and stops her from hurting him, she immediately bites her own hand or arm. In the beginning, she never left a mark. In the last few days, though, this has changed. Yesterday, she bit herself so hard that she broke the skin.

At first, I responded to this by grabbing her and saying, "No, Gracie! That hurts! Don't hurt yourself!" Which usually resulted in her biting herself again or trying to hit me. She was clearly frustrated and upset, but did not know how to let it out. As the behavior escalated and she started to bite and hit herself, I started to get more and more worried. I did some research on the internet and read some opinions that the biting might be for attention. The more I give her attention for biting herself, the more she does it. They suggested redirection or picking her up, holding her in a bear hug, and saying, "Gracie, I'm not going to let you hurt yourself. Mommy loves you," and then taking her to read a book together or something else.

Last night, she hit and bit Luke very hard. She broke the skin on his back through his shirt. When I picked him up to console him and told her that wasn't nice, she immediately made a fierce face and bit her own arm. I put Luke down and held her with her arms at her sides. "Gracie, I'm not going to let you hurt yourself. Biting hurts. Mommy loves you. How can I help you feel better?"

She struggled a bit, but I was able to grab a book nearby and redirect her attention to the book. We were awkwardly sitting in the hallway, but Luke joined us and we were able to enjoy the book with no further fallout.

This biting thing has me on edge. I realize it may just be a phase, but I can't help but think about those teenage girls cutting themselves. Did they bite themselves as toddlers? Is Gracie's behavior a sign of something to come?

I don't know and it's scaring me.


  1. Sorry Jen! I am no doctor but I think you need to let yourself off the hook a bit. Toddlers bite. They are impulsive little critters and biting,hitting, kicking, screaming, slapping, breaking, crying, and the like are all part of the game of raising toddlers. I think the redirection is your best bet. They are great kids and you are a great mommy! HUGS!

  2. I agree - that is scary, but like Caryn said, I think it's also part of being a toddler. I've noticed self-inflicted biting with my boys on occasion and absolutely agree that it is for attention. I hope the redirection works out well for you - you are doing a fantastic job with these kiddos!

  3. I agree with the past two posts. When Hailey used to hit herself (hard in the head repeatedly) I used to take it that she was mad at herself and trying to calm down. Dr. Brazelton said that kids have fits, hit, bite, etc because they don't have the words to express how they feel. He said treat it like a coughing fit. They can't control it. Say, "Feel better?" "Okay...let's move on..." Good luck...I think this is the most glorious age because of all of the cool things they do and say each day, but also the most trying!

  4. Well, this may sound strange, but I bite myself sometimes too. Now, I don't break the skin, of course, but if I'm stressed out about something, I might bite my finger or my arm...enough to leave teeth marks for awhile. I guess it's just a sort of release. Just wanted to add my two cents :)


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