There is a lot in this world that really bites: the wit of Oscar Wilde, sharks, global warming, and ginger snaps among them. But none of those things are quite as polarizing, shocking or grotesque as when your tiny toddler bites.
Not only is biting a crazy animalistic behavior that can worry you deeply — it’s also freaking dangerous. But if you want to deal with it in way that’s appropriate and not counter-productive, put aside the fact that your little cherub is also a horrifying C.H.U.D. Here are the ins and outs of why your kid might bite and what to do about inappropriate chomping.
What’s The Deal With Biting?
Here’s something that might make you feel better about a biting kid (or freaked out if yours isn’t biting): it’s super common, particularly for toddlers. It’s not like they call them ankle biters for nothing, right?
The reasons a tot might use their teeth are pretty diverse. But rest assured, most of them have nothing to do with having a taste for human flesh. Most.
It’s easy do something shocking when no one understands you. Why do you think Ozzy was biting the heads off all those bats? If your kid is still in babble mode, or if they are having trouble using their limited vocabulary to express emotions, biting is as good a tool as any to get your attention.
Teething lasts longer than you probably expect. So your kid might not be biting out of frustration, but due of oral discomfort. That discomfort can get pretty bad the older they get because the molars make it hard to break on through to the other side. If only those gums had doors.
Your kid is like a tiny scientist who lost their white coat, because they’re constantly testing real-world hypotheses. For example, they may be thinking, “What happens when I bite my father on the ankle?” Hypothesis: “My father will give me a cuddle.” Result: “He looks annoyed and confused.” New test. “What happens if I bite the dog?”
Biting will often occur if things are getting too intense. Crowds, loud noises, and other situations that could overload a kid’s coping skills could lead to a gnashing of the teeth. That’s particularly problematic if there are a bunch of targets for biting in the vicinity.
How To Nip It In The Bud
The first thing you can do is not call your kid a “biter,” or allow anyone else to call them that. This kind of thing can be internalized and make the problem worse. It’s just like when someone sarcastically called you a “ladies man,” and then you brought a bottle of Courvoisier on a blind date. Beyond that it’s important to give your toddler the best opportunity to keep their teeth to themselves.
- Make sure your kid has safe, biteable stuff at hand if they’re teething.
- If they’re susceptible to being overwhelmed, remove them from chaotic situations for some time to breathe.
- Teach them the words for their feelings so they can express when they’re angry. Pre-verbal kids might benefit from sign language.
- Give them other tools to get frustration out, like hugging a stuffed animal, hitting a pillow, hitting some stuffing. (It’s Stove Top!)
- Make sure you give your kid enough attention throughout the day so they feel connected.
- Adequate sleep and regular mealtimes will keep the cranky factor down and reduce the possibilities of biting.
When Babies Attack
If you happen to be around when your kid bites you need to immediately intervene. But here’s the trick: you need to do it calmly. Many times your kid might be looking for a reaction, and the bigger yours is, the more satisfied they are.
Calmly explain to them that biting hurts and it’s unacceptable. Don’t linger on this. Because the person who needs the attention is the person who was bit. Showing concern and care for the victim is important for your kid to see.
Once the child who has been bitten has been cared for, return to your kid and try to hash out the reason they bit. Once you’ve got it nailed down, suggest other ways they might have resolved the situation and then redirect them to another activity.
If your kid has bit you, do not bite them back. That’s just ridiculous. Not only does it send them the wrong message, it could seriously hurt them. Be calm. Tell them that it hurts and then remove yourself from them for a bit. They’ll eventually understand that biting reduces attention.
The trick to all of this is to increase communication and stability. Once you have it figured out, there will be one less thing in the world that bites. But there’s nothing you’re ever going to do about Wilde — that guy was a pip.