By Marcia Hall
Parents are naturally fearful when their toddler begins to bite. It often starts out as small experimental bites to just those who care for her the most. These ordinary bites, which are usually called love bites, can be very painful and your toddler may transition into biting other things, people and even animals. There are some ways you can stop your little one from hurting you and others from her bites.
Remain calm. Your baby may be small, but her teeth are pretty sharp. Her bite can take you by surprise and hurt a good deal. The normal human response to pain is to yell or jump. Do your best to avoid doing this, as it will only highlight the action to your child. The more attention she receives from this action, the more often she is going to “practice” it.
Remove her from your lap or arms immediately. If the biting progresses, you will need to remove her from your immediate presence for a short time without getting angry. This will teach her that biting does not get her the attention she is seeking. If you sense that she has started to bite you BECAUSE she wants you to put her down, then you can simply turn her body around so that she is no longer facing you. This will also remove her from your attention without giving into her frustration.
Use simple directions. “No bite mommy” is all you need to say, and you only need to say it one time. Babies do understand the simple words you use most of the time. However, when you repeat the same words over and over it loses meaning for her. Stating your instruction with a strong clear voice one time is all that is needed. Anymore and it will be more like yelling, which is just another form of attention.
Never bite your child back. Though it can be tempting and may even seem like a natural consequence for your child, biting your child back in order to teach her how it feels will not help. In fact, it will teach your child to bite out of anger. Most likely at this point your child is simply exploring her world with her mouth and teeth. She wants to see how it feels to put something other than food between her teeth and close. With each bite, her brain learns something new or reinforces what she already knew. When you get upset with your child for biting and bite her back, all it teaches her is that biting is something that can be done when a person is angry. Your toddler cannot understand the connection between her bite and yours. It does not teach her the lesson that you are hoping for and causes her a great deal of pain.
Find a replacement for you to give your child to bite. Biting is a natural and normal explorative phase in life. Most of the time, the techniques given will help your child to stop biting. Occasionally, biting continues beyond this exploration or occurs in children older. In this case, it is likely that your child has some type of physical need to bite. Perhaps it is a control behavior she has learned helps her cope with the stresses in her life. It could also be a sensory issue. Some children are simply more orally fixated than others and need to explore with their mouth longer than their peers. When this happens you will need to find some kind of replacement for living things so that your child can continue to fill the need she has for biting. It should be something that you can keep with you always, because you never know when your child is going to have the sensation to bite you or someone else. It should be soft and not harmful to her. Then when your child bites or starts to bite you or others, pull out the object and say firmly, “Don’t bite mommy, bite this” and hand her the item.
Though biting is a normal phase of life, it can be scary to think of your child running around biting everyone or everything she sees. However, the calm and focused attitude of her caregivers can help her to discover healthy ways to explore and gain the attention she needs.