Wild 16-month-old

My 16-month-old son hits, bites and pulls my hair any time I need to restrict his activities. I have put effort into redirecting him, and it does work sometimes, but there are times also when he simply can not be allowed what he wants and he directs his displeasure at me. I am getting frazzled and today I swatted him twice on the behind for attacking me. He laughed at me. I perceive him as deliberately provoking me. I have planned on NOT using spanking as a discipline tool, and feel like I'm falling into a trap. How can I impress upon him that this is unacceptable? When he bites me nursing, I remove him from the breast and set him down, but he bites me 3-5 times a day and my ''rejecting'' him obviously has no effect. If this were my dog, I would say that it was time to assert some dominance. Any tips will be gratefully accepted, if I can find a chance to get back to my computer to receive them!

At 16 months, your son is at the developmental stage where he still does not have all of the verbal language skills in place to allow him to easily communicate in words exactly what he is feeling or thinking. So, when things don’t go his way, he may physically lash out in much the same way that puppies, bear cubs, and kittens do. A good portion of the time, these movements are more like "animal" reflexes to his surroundings.

Chances are your child is not trying to maliciously provoke you. However, he is most likely interested in trying to get your attention. Remember, if he can’t get positive attention (smiles, kisses, hugs, sweet talk), he’ll welcome negative attention (including threatening, yelling and even spanking). Therefore, this explains his laughing at you after you chose to spank him.

Keep in mind that "discipline," as defined in The Pocket Parent, is a process of teaching right from wrong. Your son will need some time to first understand that this behavior is not okay, and secondly, to be physically able to control his impulses.

Accept the fact that there will be many times that your child will be displeased with you for setting limits, so acknowledge his feelings by saying something like, "Oh, I see how angry you are that you may not walk on the table. You may walk on the carpet." And then, try to get out of his firing range! Consider his displeasure a compliment to your parenting in teaching right from wrong.

You might continue to use techniques like distraction to enable you to redirect his attention elsewhere (away from trouble). You can also impress upon your child the behavior that is acceptable by specifically praising his good behavior when it occurs.

As far as getting bitten while nursing, perhaps at 16 months you might consider beginning to wean him. In previous generations, many mothers stopped nursing when the teeth came in. However, the length of nursing is a very personal thing, with no one correct amount of time.

Good luck!

Gail Reichlin