Biting is a normal part of child development. Learn how to respond to biting incidents, and get tips for discouraging this behavior.
Babies are cute and often playful. Biting, though, is not cute if you’re on the receiving end. How can you teach your baby or toddler not to use his or her teeth that way?
Why do babies and toddlers bite?
Starting in infancy, babies use their mouths to explore the world around them. They will suck, taste, and chew anything they can get their mouths on. As the first teeth come in, many babies enjoy gnawing on objects or special toys to help with the pain of teething. Breast-fed babies may start to bite down while they nurse, which can be very painful for mom.
Parents, siblings, and children at daycare may also get bitten when a baby wants to get their attention. No spot is safe – those razor-sharp teeth may leave tiny bruises on someone else’s knees, hands, shoulders, or face.
Older babies and toddlers may bite to get attention, too. Sometimes they’re just testing out cause and effect: “What will happen if I bite daddy?” Or they may use their teeth because they feel frustrated, angry, or threatened. This behavior is common in children, most of whom outgrow it by the time they turn 3.
What’s the best way to react?
- For infants: Some parents find that their babies respond to natural reactions, such as a loud “ouch!” or the crying of a sibling. Otherwise, a calm but firm “no” will do, even if baby is too young to really understand what it means. Then you can offer the baby a safe teething toy instead.
- If you’re nursing: Don’t pull back because that can cause sore nipples. Instead, carefully break the latch with your finger. A biting baby may be distracted or simply not hungry. Move to a quiet, darkened room, if possible. If that doesn’t help, end the feeding and try again later.
- For toddlers: Bring the child to a quiet spot and sit him or her down. Your toddler may feel sad and confused, so be comforting but firm. Explain that biting hurts people, so you don’t bite. If the child is old enough, talk in simple terms about what led to the biting. Was it to get your attention? Did another child take a toy? Was he or she tired of waiting for someone? Did something frighten your child? Never hit a child or bite the child back to show what it feels like. This will just teach your child aggressive behavior.
How can you prevent biting in the first place?
For infants, make sure they have plenty of teething toys. Older babies may enjoy gnawing on a wet washcloth that has been in the freezer for about a half hour, If you see your baby lunging with an open mouth toward a part of your body, hold your baby away from you instead of letting him or her make contact.
Toddlers may show signs of frustration or anger just before they bite. Watching them carefully during playtime, especially if they’re around other children, should offer clues. If you see conflicts between kids starting to escalate, stepping in can help thwart a bite. Tell the frustrated child that you know how he or she is feeling and be gentle. Then suggest that he or she play with another toy and redirect him or her away from the situation.
Most babies and toddlers will bite their parents or peers at some point. But a little patience can go a long way toward stopping this negative behavior.