Lisa Poelle, author of The Biting Solution: The Expert’s No Biting Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Early Childhood Educators, explains that during the sensorimotor stage children use oral exploration to learn about their surroundings. Many times, babies may put their teeth on their parents’ shoulder when excited, and toddlers use biting as their go-to reaction to any sort of tension.
Poelle warns that parents can do more harm than good when they get dramatic after their child bites. Ranting and raving can act as its own sort of reward because the child realizes that she “caused” the reaction. Biting your child back isn’t the right answer, either. Doing so teaches your child that bigger people can hurt smaller people by solving problems with aggression. Instead, follow Poelle’s tips for nipping biting in the bud:
1. Put baby down right after it happens, saying something like, “I won’t let you near me when you bite. We don’t put our teeth on people. It hurts.” Actively demonstrate how to blow raspberries and kiss people without engaging one’s teeth.
2. Look objectively for underlying reasons for the behavior, and create solutions that address them. You may need to revise the way you’re currently setting limits, manage your child’s hunger or fatigue, or change the setup of the physical environment or daily routine.
3. Intervene in a way that gives your child alternatives. Rather than saying, “Use your words,” suggest exactly which words would have worked in that situation. For example, teach the child who bit someone because he got too close to say, “Be careful,” or, “Move.”