October 21, 2014
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Baby Health

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What to do if your child bites

From the time an infant is born, she will "nom-nom" onto Mom's hand or gnaw on Dad's forearm as he holds her. An infant's mouth is one of her most developed body parts, and she'll use it to explore her world, in addition to using her hands (and then she'll grab things to put into her mouth!) or her voice.

Most babies bite a little more often once they begin teething. It may become a way to play or to communicate the discomfort they feel as their baby teeth emerge from beneath their gums. Some babies bite when they feel over-excited or happy.

As an infant passes the 12-month mark into the toddler years, she may bite to express stress or frustration, to get someone's attention because she has yet to develop language skills to ask for it, or just on a whim. At this age, most toddlers would not know they could hurt someone with their bites, though some may use it as a way to defend themselves against other toddlers' bites or bothering.

It is when a child enters preschool age that biting becomes much less common and more of a potential problem. Occasionally a youngster may bite for the same reasons she did as a toddler. In fact, biting is one of the top reasons children are expelled from daycare centres. Still, a child older than 3 who bites should have developed communication skills to deal with most frustrations or anxieties.

Tips to prevent or stop biting behaviours

Start young. To stem the habit, it is best to correct it right when the behaviour starts. For infants, this could mean you pull away from bites and say in a firm but calm voice, "Ouch! That hurts. No biting." When correcting a toddler's biting behaviour, make direct eye contact and speak firmly and sharply.

Cut out the cutesy stuff. It is natural for a parent to find a little playful biting adorable, to giggle, or to give a light-hearted nibble back. But this can send mixed messages, even to younger infants. Explain to caregivers, grandparents, and siblings not to laugh or to encourage the behaviour as a game.

Set up clear rules with reasons. Rather than scolding a child with an unclear, unfocused reprimand - "You are a bad boy!" - explain clearly why biting is bad. Children old enough to understand may be told that biting is forbidden because it hurts, it could spread infection, and it can leave a scar.

Establish clear consequences. For frequent biting, parents might try the time-out technique. Or parents may choose to involve a biter in the process of caring for the one who has been bitten. If intervention and consequences do not make a difference, consult your child's pediatrician for advice.

Give kids alternative ways to cope. Teething infants should be given a teething ring to gnaw on. Let toddlers and preschoolers know that they don't need to bite, that they can "use their words" to share and vent their anxieties and frustrations to their parents, siblings, or to their teachers.

Consider the context. Take note of the times when your toddler or preschooler resorts to biting behaviour. Perhaps it happens when she's hungry or over-stimulated or constipated. Maybe biting begins when you bring a new baby into the house or if your living situation changes. Knowing the triggers can better prepare you to deal with or prevent episodes.

Don't bite back. Even well-intentioned parents can make the mistake of giving their tots a bite to "show them how it feels." But like joking and laughing during the behaviour, biting back can confuse and mislead a child into thinking that biting is the appropriate way to deal with anger or if they have been bitten by another child.

Visit a doctor or clinic to receive proper wound care for bites that break the skin.


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