Biting is something that most parents at least fear, even if they don’t ever have to deal with it.
There’s the breastfeeding mother’s dread that her suckling child is one day going to try out that newly hatched first tooth on her nipples, and dad’s pained yells
when his toddler has an unexpected chew on his shoulder. However, hatching a plan of action/reaction, agreed by mum and dad, is advisable, long before you
might need to invest in a muzzle.
Why do babies bite?
From about four or five months onwards, a baby has a lot going on in that poor mouth of hers. Trying first foods during weaning, the arrival of bouts of painful
teething, and being able to sit up and hold toys that are fun to gnaw on – these are milestones. Until now, her main sources of world experience have been
via passive sight, the very basics of motor skills, and contact through being cuddles. Oh, and feeding – that vital, instinctive first action that all babies live by
whether they are fed by breast or bottle.
As her awareness of new sensations becomes greater, a baby will use all her senses and physical skills to explore further. Tasting and biting are two of these.
Plus, teething, like good old fashioned toothache, sometimes feels better when you can bite down on something. For a child suffering the most awful experience of
her short life, anything she can do to relieve that pressure in her mouth is welcome, until mummy or daddy comes along with the next dose of Calpol…
When biting becomes a habit
A parent who didn’t howl with shock and agony the first time their child takes a nip at them would be a rare thing indeed. And whilst early attempts to relieve the
pain of teething might become a popular pastime for a seven-month-old, it’s the reaction that a bite gets which usually encourages a child to turn a one-off chomp
into a habit.
To a small child, even if you look cross or tell them off, they will quickly realise that they get your attention when they bite you or someone else. They will think it’s
funny and why shouldn’t they? There are many times when we play ‘pretend hit and fall over’ with young children and until a toddler is about three, she cannot
begin to fully understand why some things are good, some things are fun, and some things are plain bad.
If a child suffers a bite from another child, she may learn that again, this gets a reaction. Or that it at least helps her win a fight over a toy or a chair or a piece of
food. She may then decide this is how she too are going to negotiate her way through her little world.
How to deal with babies who bite
There is no point in being cross with a child under one. She simply will not understand and you will not resolve the reasons why she is biting.
Instead, think about why she has just bitten you.
Was she breastfeeding? In which case, it is probably just that new experience of biting down. If you make a noise, she will look at you and be surprised. Even if
you couldn’t help a cry of agony, try then to smile and make little of it. She is unlikely to do it again and again (though the occasional one-off might occur), so if at
all possible, don’t take this as a sign that it’s time to give up breastfeeding. Many babies continue to hatch new teeth and never bite down during a feed again.
Is she teething? If so, try letting her bite on your (clean) finger instead, or find safe teething rings or chewable foods that she likes.
If you don’t over-react, it is unlikely to become a habit in a child under one year old.
How to deal with toddlers who bite
Don’t lose your temper Being cross, or shouting with pain, is pure fun to your toddler. To start off with, you must try to brace yourself and learn not to give much of reaction when your
child bites you. If it is the first time, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to contain yourself (!) but in some cases, a calm word saying that it’s not a very kind thing to do, will
be enough for your child to stop doing it.
Draw attention onto something else
When your child does bite you, change the subject quickly. Find a new activity rather than dwelling on it for too long. If you know your child has done it
deliberately, you can make your feelings known, but make sure you are boringly calm when you do discuss it, and don’t mention it to your partner in front of your
child otherwise it will seem like front page news!
Be prepared with your reaction If your child bites regularly, you should discuss your strategy for dealing with it with your partner, and then make sure you both consistently follow this through.
Although young children don’t fully understand the concepts of crime and punishment, you can discuss why it is wrong, why it makes you sad and perhaps even
how it makes you feel (it hurts!).
Don’t bite back! DON’T bite her back to illustrate this, however gently, as you carrying out the supposedly forbidden behaviour will utterly
confuse your child.
Think about why your child bites Some children bite because they are anxious. If you suspect this is the case, try to address what might be making your child frightened or worried.
If your child bites another child (or is bitten)
As with hitting and snatching, if your child bites another child, be clear that you are unhappy with your child but then pay more attention to the needs of the victim
so that attention on your child cannot be seen as some kind of ‘reward’ for the wrong-doing.
If your child is bitten by another child, be reassuring, comforting and make it clear to your child that you
did not think the behaviour was kind or fair. The ‘school of hard knocks’ is not a good route to go down, and parents who politely feel their child ‘just has to learn
to deal with such things’ will quickly find their own little darling becomes a monster from learned bad behaviour – the abused becomes the abuser.
If all of the above sounds daunting, don’t worry. If you’re lucky, biting will never become a habit. If it does, just being able to stand back, examine what are the likely causes of your child’s habit, and being consistent and clear about how you show your child it is wrong, will reap positive results quite quickly.