Ask a Mama: “Ouch! I Have a Biter!”

 

Hey Mudpie Mamas – Looking for some advice here. My daughter (19-months old) has started biting. She bit my husband for the first time last night, we told her no, explained it hurt daddy, she started crying, and I thought we were done. I just got a text from our daycare and she has started biting other kids today (again for the first time ever). If a child takes a toy away from her, or if she wants a toy another child has, she bites them. Any advice on nipping this new found talent in the bud? Thank you very much!

Ouch! Biting is one of those childhood horrors that can challenge even the best parents. Many parents have discovered as you have, that removing the child from the situation and explaining how it hurts does not always cure the behavior. Penelope Leach, child psychologist, warns parents not to inadvertently reward your biter with attention, and that biting back is pointless and only escalates the situation.

Often biting diminishes as a toddler becomes more verbal and they are able to use words in place of action (frustration, possessiveness over a toy, etc). Talking to your child when you both are calm can help—you will not only be teaching the rules of the social world, you will be increasing her own verbal skills. Parents who talk often during the day to their kids beyond commands are also laying the template for developing language and thought.

Here are the steps I would try first when you see her bite:

• A firm and immediate NO! is important. So is close eye contact (to the point of asking her to look in your eyes) and again repeat no, biting is bad and I will not stand for it
• I would then walk away and comfort daddy, make soothing sounds, express sympathy, kiss the bite mark. It is important that the attention is on the victim, not the biter
• Give her a short time out away from people. It is a banishment from the circle for bad behavior, and we all want to be in the circle of our tribe
• When things calm down talk to her as if she were older, explain why it hurts. Help her to learn and use language to communicate

Here’s a last resort suggestion that I thought sounded effective from Ruth Peters, a child counselor:

“You may have to play hard ball. I’ve often suggested squirting the offending party’s mouth with a breath spray, as little kids’ taste buds are not yet mature, and most breath sprays are perceived as yucky. Teachers usually like this technique, as they can keep a small spray tube in their pocket and utilize it quickly and effectively. Most kids will not bite again if they know that they’ll be squirted! If you choose to go this route, be sure that the spray that you purchase is approved by your child’s pediatrician and is safe to use with a small child.”

One last aside for what it is worth: Back in the olden days when I was a toddler, I bit my little brother and my mother walked over to me, lifted my hand and bit a finger, not too hard, but enough to get my attention. “That is what it feels like,” she said calmly and walked away. I cried more from the surprise of her reaction than pain. To this day I remember the pressure of her teeth on my finger, and no, I wasn’t damaged, and I did not bite again.  I am not suggesting biting back!  It is an illustration of the way biters used to be handled.  Maybe the wrong way, but I survived as most children do.

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Comments

  1. Joanie Deutsch says:

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been asking around to different mothers for advice on this and was honestly shocked when a lot of them told me to “bite back!” Although some swear by that method, and I don’t judge those that chose that method, it just doesn’t seem like the answer for me in my relationship with my child. My daughter finally bit me one night (she had only bit her dad and some kids at daycare before) and I thought I might resort to that method, but chose not to. Instead we stuck with the firm “NO!” and “we don’t bite!” I might be a little early to declare victory here… but it’s been about four days since she last tried to bite anyone. I love how you include the real world advice with that of the child psychologist and child counselor. Thanks again for posting this!

    • I like the way you followed what felt right for you and your daughter’s relationship instead of relying on ‘experts’. Keep up the good work!

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