Bite club: How to manage biting babies and toddlers

Kinderling News & Features

As teeth creep through the gums, the chances of your kid biting you or another increase ten-fold. Of course, sometimes it’s an accident. But at other times it seems to be a new game they’ve discovered, or a way of acting out. And the biting can continue for a while! Toddlers are also prone to biting for a variety of reasons.

What can you do to fix the situation, so your beautiful child isn’t hellbent on hurting others (whether they understand what they’re doing or not)?

Bubs

It’s important to separate biting in babies from biting in toddlers. Teething babies crave sinking their inflamed gums into something hard – like her cot rail or your finger – to get counter pressure. She isn’t biting to be mean or to hurt you.

Babies also enjoy biting after a new pearly white has arrived. She’s fascinated by it and wants to try it out on whatever’s handy, including your nipples if she’s feeding (owie!).

Best response for bub:

Do not bite them!

Your baby won’t understand that they’ve hurt you and so biting back will only upset them.

Don’t react strongly

It may hurt, but try not to cry out in pain – your baby will get a thrill out of hearing your high-pitched sounds or harsh scolds. The message is, don’t make a big deal out of it and they’ll be less inclined to do it again.

Say firmly, “do not bite”

Be very clear and firm by saying “no biting” when they bite. Make this a low-drama statement so she doesn’t bite to get a reaction in future. 

Offer something they’re allowed to bite

A teether, wooden toy, dummy or even a chilled washer are all things she’ll enjoy sinking her teeth into and will help to satisfy her chomping desires. 

Tots

If you have a little biter who can toddle over to other children at the park and cause a commotion, then take some solace in knowing that one in 10 toddlers are biters.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation:

But the reasons a toddler bites are different. These include:

  • Experimentation – some toddlers bite because they are experimenting what their little chompers can do.
  • Anger and frustration –  they can’t articulate how they feel and so resort to biting. For example, when struggling to share or take turns with playmates.
  • Feeling powerless – often the youngest child in the family is the biter because they can’t communicate wants and needs like older siblings can. In a group setting, this type of biter bites to get attention in the hope it will get them what they want.
  • Emotional stress – biting is a coping mechanism for some toddlers who are unable to articulate that they’re feeling upset. 

Tips for toddlers:

Again, do not bite back!

Biting back is counterproductive. It’s not only terrifying for your toddler but also reinforces the behaviour and teaches her that biting is acceptable.

Oversee playdates

If you know you have a biter, make sure that you are always supervising their interaction with other children.

Say, “Biting hurts”

When your toddler sinks their fangs into you or someone else, make sure you clearly tell them, “Biting hurts. We don’t bite.” Then, give all of your attention to the hurt child, so your kid learns that biting won’t get them attention, and in fact it will take it off them. Always remain calm and firm.

Discipline the biting

Remove your toddler from the fun if they bite, so they learn there are consequences to bad, anti-social behaviour.

Know your kid’s biting triggers

If you know certain situations are going to be hard for your little one, try not to expose them to that. For example, keep playdates short and sweet when they’re playing with older children who may overwhelm them. With maturity, they’ll feel less frustrated and able to articulate feelings.

Remember size

If you know your child bites because they feel powerless around older playmates or siblings, encourage inclusive play and where everyone has a turn. If toddlers can’t play with older siblings without resorting to biting, withdraw them from the game.

Find the cause of their stress

If you feel your little one is lashing out biting because they can’t articulate feelings, then talk about what might be upsetting them and try to help them develop other ways of dealing with emotions, such as cuddling or a special soft toy. If biting really does give the release they need, encourage them to chomp down on something else, like a blanket or old toothing toy.

This article was originally published on Babyology.