Toddler Cannibalism: The Hidden Epidemic (and Week 31 Review)

mallet used for bells
Similar to the offending mallet. (Image via Wikipedia)

My husband told me that my blog’s popularity had peaked and that I should do something outrageous to “move it to the next level”. So I decided to write sensationalist blog titles. You like this one?

So, an 18-month-old bit my 18-month-old at music class Saturday morning. It all went down like this: Miss Tiffany had just brought out the baskets of instruments for the jam session before the lullaby. My guy grabbed a mallet and started looking around for a drum to beat with it. Baby B had a drum and was looking for a mallet, when he spotted the one in my guy’s fist. Baby B grabbed the mallet and started to walk back to his mom with it. My guy had the mallet in a death grip and was being dragged along by Baby B. Baby B’s mom got there before I did and took her kid’s hand off of the mallet. Baby B seemed upset, but he calmed down quickly. I watched as he walked to the other side of my guy, picked up the hand not holding the mallet, and sunk his little teeth into my guy’s wrist. Baby B’s mom took him away crying, I held my crying little guy, and within moments, both were calm and playing music again, side-by-side.

When we were in California, my daughter and I were part of a parent-participation preschool in Palo Alto called Preschool Family. We started going when she was 16 months old and stopped just before she turned three when we moved to Utah. It was one day a week, parents and kids together for the whole time every week, and then parents had a twice-monthly evening parent-ed class. While I was in the program, I totally took it for granted. Now that I’m hundreds of miles from anything similar, I really miss it. Even as a homeschooler, I found the classes invaluable to helping me understand child development and gentle ways of working through the unique challenges that toddlers offer us. I mention Preschool Family here because I’m certain that it is directly responsible for the reaction I have when toddlers beat up on my kids.

After class, Baby B’s mom came up to me.

“I’m so sorry!” she said. “I’m just mortified! He’s just started this biting thing, and I don’t know what to do!”

“You know,” I said, “it’s just his age. They get excited and are so full of emotion, they just don’t know what to do. So they bite. It’s my job to protect my son from getting hurt, but I’m not upset at you or Baby B at all. It’s totally appropriate to his age.”

“Thank you so much for being so understanding!” she said. “That helps a lot.”

“Seriously, don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m cool.”

And I went on throughout my day replaying this scene and feeling very proud of myself for being such an amazingly understanding mom. Except for the “I’m cool” part. I have no idea why that seemed like the right thing to say at that point. I think it was like when someone says, “Happy birthday!” and you slip and say without thinking, “You, too!” Unless, of course, that someone is your twin, in which case, it would make perfect sense.

At any rate, I don’t mind that much when little-little kids beat up on my kids. And I definitely don’t want the kids who’ve done the hurting being forced to apologize. They don’t understand that they’ve hurt someone, much less what it means to apologize for it.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that I’m not so understanding when my own children are the aggressors. When my daughter was four, she pushed a friend’s two-year-old down our stairs. I was beside myself. I had no idea what to do. If my daughter hadn’t been bald until age two, I would have wondered if she had a 666 on her scalp. But I guess it helped me have empathy for the moms of the kids who are the aggressors. It sets off some primal fear in a mom when her kid willfully hurts another child.

The first week of Motherhood Month has gone well, though. I’ve been off-and-on about my resolutions, I’ve raised my voice a couple of times, but I’m surprised to find that I’m fairly forgiving of myself. It’s a nice—though foreign—place to be. Another thing: Sunday afternoon I’m anticipating taking a yoga class, dropping by home to nurse the little guy, then going to see a movie. I will effectively be spending the entire afternoon away from my kids and, so far, I don’t feel guilty about it.

We’ll see how I feel while sitting in the dark theater in the moments after the lights go down but before the movie begins.

3 Replies to “Toddler Cannibalism: The Hidden Epidemic (and Week 31 Review)”

  1. I was going to read anyway, but your title had me wondering (and clicking it first in my google reader)

    We’ve been on the receiving end several times and I’m working on my patience with other kids’ parents who are usually on their cell phones instead of paying attention. I try to approach it from the pov that both kids are hurting and in need of connection. But it’s hard not to be mama bear.

    I try to empower my kids with words like “that hurts. I do not like it.” It helps them when they can name their feelings.


  2. I like this title a lot. I mean who can resist cannibalism and then you throw toddlers in the mix. Well, that just about does it!

    I think a lot of moms could take a page out of your book and not be judgmental when it comes to aggressive toddler behavior. Being the mom of a hitter I know I’ve had more than my fair share of dirty looks, and even had more than one person yell at my child! They’re learning how to be for crying out loud! Kudos to you.


  3. i always feel mortified when my children beat up other children (including yours) but this is ALL true, i totally don’t feel that way when others beat up my kids, I’m like “I totally understand.” Okay, I’m SURE we have more than shared our two cents on the matter, but I thought I’d just chime in with “you ARE cool” and “i’m pickin’ up what you’re layin’ down!”


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