Ouch! The best ways to deal with a biting toddler or bub

Babies biting each other

When my son was about 18 months old he lashed out and bit my leg in response to me grabbing a pair of scissors off him.

The next day I spoke to my mother’s group about it and was surprised to hear my little biter wasn’t alone in his aggressive behaviour. One mum even showed me the tooth marks her child had suffered the day before on a playdate with another tot about the same age.

Then, the next time it happened I did what I’ve now discovered you should never do. I bit him back. My thinking was, ‘he doesn’t realise he’s hurt me, so maybe if I give him a little nip he’ll understand that biting hurts? Nope. I was met with laughter and ‘biting mummy’ became his new favourite game.

So whats the best way to deal with this anti-social behaviour? Try these tips:

For babies

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.

Baby biting playmat

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!). If this happens the best response is:

Don’t bite back!

Your baby won’t understand that she’s hurt you and so biting her back will only upset her.

Don’t squeal or have a big reaction

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 she’ll be less inclined to do it again.

Tell her, “No biting”

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

Give her something she CAN 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

For toddlers

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.

Toddler thumb sucking

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 he can’t communicate his wants and needs like his older siblings can. In a group setting, this type of biter bites to get attention in the hope it will get him what he wants.
  • Emotional stress – biting is a coping mechanism for some toddlers who are unable to articulate that they’re feeling upset. 

Here’s what to about a toddler who bites:

Don’t 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.

Supervise playdates

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

Say, “Biting hurts” when he bites

When your toddler sinks his fangs into you or someone else, make sure you clearly tell him, “Biting hurts. We don’t bite.” then, give all of your attention to his victim, so he learns that biting won’t get him attention, in fact it will take it off him. Always remain calm and firm.

Restrict his play

Remove him from the fun he’s having if he bites so he learns there are consequences to his bad anti-social behaviour.

Be aware of your child’s biting triggers

If you know certain situations are going to be hard for your little one, don’t put him in them. For example, keep playdates short and sweet when he’s playing with older children who may overwhelm him. As he matures, he’ll feel less frustrated and able to articulate his feelings.

Fighting siblings

Account for his size

If you know your child bites because he feels powerless around older playmates or siblings, encourage them to include him in their play and have a turn. If he can’t play with older siblings without resorting to biting, withdraw him from the game.

Get to the bottom of his stress

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

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