Bad Parent: The Biter. My son is "that kid." By Kate Tuttle for

There’s a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called “The Baby Party.” Set during a toddler’s birthday and its aftermath, the story centers on an act of kid-on-kid violence and parents behaving badly: the protagonist’s daughter pushes the birthday boy to the floor, then laughs, and both toddlers’ fathers end up in a fistfight on the front lawn. It ends with a father clutching his now-sleeping daughter, a vivid and naughty child, and realizing what it was he had fought for so savagely that evening. He had it now, he possessed it forever, and for some time he sat there rocking very slowly to and fro in the darkness. 

I’ve been there. So has every parent whose kid has ever been “that kid”: the hitter, the biter, the scratcher, the one the other parents use as a counter-example to get their kids to shape up. My children, a toddler and a teen, while generally charming and lovable people, have recently made me that kind of parent. Although it hasn’t come to that, I can see myself in a suburban fistfight to defend their honor.

The toddler, a boy, has discovered yelling. Also throwing. And hitting, scratching and biting. These last three, especially the biting, are cause for his daycare to fill out a form mandated by the state. Daycare pickup has become a fraught moment for me. I arrive each day steeling myself for the moment his teacher, an infinitely gentle and wise woman from Sri Lanka, presents me with the state-mandated incident report form and a pen to sign it with. It’s gotten so that I can read her body language – is she reaching for a form on that shelf, or is she just going for his lunchbox? Does she look particularly sympathetic and disappointed, or am I reading too much into her expression? Any day she doesn’t hand me the form is, by definition, a great day.

Maybe only another mother whose toddler bites can know how it feels. There’s guilt, of course, and a kind of shame that my kid has done this. Sometimes, sure, another kid has pulled his hair, snatched a toy, committed some pint-sized act of provocation that at least explains, though never excuses, his behavior. There are plenty of reasons why toddlers bite. Looking for explanations online, I’ve found sites proposing sensory integration training, gluten-free diets and rebirthing (that kid did spend a long time in my birth canal). More reasonable experts point to normal developmental issues of communication and control. Most of the time, I know, he’s reached out and hurt another kid for no reason at all, or for reasons unknown even to him, by-products of the giant emotions that play out inside his little mind and body.