Why is Johnny Biting? (Pedcast)


So the other day I was in the office, doing a checkup on a 2.5 year old-Indian boy (that’s the kind of indian from india). The family had just gotten back from a visit to India for a few months. This is not uncommon for the Indian families I care for. It was a usual checkup questions with a discussion about sleep, feeding, and, as I always do with toddlers and preschoolers, getting a sense of who is in control at home. Are parents comfortable with setting limits. Mom started telling me about her child that had started hitting and biting her, not sleeping well, demanding a lot of attention at night, and potty training not going well. She knew that biting wasn’t an unusual behavior for children under two years of age but he was over two and had never done that before. She as very distressed by all this.

So I started telling her about the concept of regression. Regression is a psychological term that refers to a child having trouble with developmental tasks that they have already mastered. Literally moving backwards in their mastery of developmental tasks.  For instance a child who has been potty trained during the day who starts having accidents like this child did. Or a child who has developed enough self control not to bite or hit who has these behaviors starting back up. You get the idea.  Now here is the key concept; children regress in their behavior when they are under stress of some sort like sleeping in a strange place, being sick, when the adults in their life are not creating stability etc etc. It seemed pretty clear to me that this child was reacting to the stress of his recent travel. I don’t know about you but I would find it very stressful to travel 8400 miles, be in a place where I don’t understand much language, sleep in a strange place, eat very different food than I am used to etc.

Now this may be a revelation for you, but adults regress in their behavior when we are stressed, just like children. You know that Doc Smo pearl; Adults are just oversized children with a few more social graces and a lot more responsibility. Think about it, don’t you become more oral when you are under stress– by oral I mean eat more, chew your nails, chew gum or smoke more, or drink more alcohol. This is regressive behavior. We also often become less sensitive to the feelings of others, quicker to react emotionally, and  more distressed when daily routines are interrupted. Sound familiar?  Kids are no different.  But here is the good news for this Mom and really anyone under a lot of stress. When the stress is gone, the regressive behaviors will fade and the child can begin moving forward again at learning new social skills, following rules, and using the potty.

So the next time your little ones start acting less mature than their age, ask yourself why and see if you can relieve some of their stress. Patience and understanding are your best weapons.  Rather than getting mad, punishing, are meaning force with force, try a little dash of compassion and understanding,  a little tincture of time, and put the stress in the frig for a little cooling down. This recipe usually works wonders.


Well, thanks for joining me today. If you like this way of exploring pediatric topics, please SUBSCRIBE on my website, www.docsmo.com or on i?tunes. Your reviews and comments are always welcome. This is Doc Smo, recording in studio 1E, hoping you don’t have too much distress, the next time your child needs to regress. Until next time.