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Baby - How to stop from biting parents?

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I was wondering if you could shed some light on my situation. My son is almost 13 months old. And he has recently developed a biting habit. His bites are anything from full on chomp to pinch-like bites. He does it for attention, for fun, or just plain because he wants to. I have bruises from his bites. I've tried just about everything I can think of. I say "no bite", he laughs and bites again. I say no bite louder, he cries, bites again. I say "No bite!" loud and firm and walkaway, he cries running after me. When he calms down, it starts all over again.

My question is, how do I discipline him and teach him that biting bad. Or how do I get him to stop biting? I don't think my arms, legs or toes can take much more of his little sharp teeth.


Ouch! I am so sorry for the pain your son is causing you.

Most babies and toddlers experiment with biting; some even go through a prolonged biting phase. They are not able to express themselves with words very well yet, so anger and frustration often are expressed by biting.

Some children bite when they are overwhelmed with too much closeness and want some distance. Others bite in an exploratory fashion, for instance while nursing or snuggling. Many little ones bite when they're teething or excited, just because it feels good.

Some babies seem to have a strong need to bite, meaning this is just the way they experience the world. And, strangely enough, many babies this age bite as an expression of affection -- their love is so big they just want to take a bite out of you, as in "I love you so much I could eat you up!"

Unfortunately, your son doesn't really understand that it hurts you when he bites. So when you say No, he laughs and bites again, because he thinks it's a game. When you say no louder, he cries because he sees that you're angry at him -- but he still doesn't know why! Even once he figures out that you're mad because he bit you, he may well see it as a dare, and keep doing it. Only once he understands that you HURT when he bites is he likely to stop. The problem is that with many kids this age the biting phase gets prolonged because the parent is either not forceful enough, or engages in a struggle with the child. Our goal is to nip it in the bud, so to speak. Here's how:

1. Recognize his feelings and give him words for them before he bites. If you get the sense that he might be about to bite, hold him away from you and say "You want to Bite. No biting! Are you MAD? Say MAD!""  Research suggests that simply acknowledging the feelings of pre-verbal little ones this way can not only prevent biting, it can actually end tantrums. 

2. Give him a substitute. Sometimes he won't be mad at all, he may just be nipping out of excitement. Regardless of his feelings, when you sense him about to bite, always hand him a teether and say "Teethers are for biting. People aren't for biting. Show me how you bite the teether."

Some kids just have to bite, and redirecting the biting is a lot more effective than stopping it. We don't care if he bites a teether, we just want him never to bite people. So if his biting continues, definitely attach a tough teether to one of those pacifier "leashes" so it stays accessible (not around his neck) and whenever he seems about to bite, put the teething ring to his mouth. One mom I know even started giving her daughter teriyaki jerky to chew when she seemed in a biting mood and her daughter completely stopped biting people.

3. Most kids bite only in certain kinds of situations. If you can stay alert especially in those situations when your son is most likely to bite, you can usually keep your skin out of his way and stick his teether in his mouth, reminding him that teethers are for biting, never people.

4. Don't pull away when he bites you or it increases the bruising and cuts into the skin. Instead, push into his mouth. He will open it and let go and you are less likely to be cut or bruised.

5. Teach him unequivocally that his biting HURTS! If you are holding him, put him down immediately. Start crying dramatically. He knows what crying is, and even small babies are upset by others crying because they know it signifies pain and unhappiness. Say "OUCH, BITING HURTS!" loudly as you sob.

I know that many experts suggest not rewarding 'bad' behavior by giving the child attention for it. But when a little one acts aggressively towards us they are testing us. I think it is a mistake to ignore biting, or even to act calm. Instead, we want to give the child the message that he is hurting us, and hurting our relationship. After all, they are looking to us to show them how relationships work.

Notice we don't get mad at them, we don't yell, we don't punish them, we don't make them bite soap, we don't put them in timeout, and we don't bite them back. Even a stern "No Biting" will often be perceived as a dare. But we DO react honestly: IT HURTS! This often stops the biting immediately, because kids are actually shocked when they learn that their biting hurts. 

6. Keep this from turning into a game, a dare or a power struggle by not engaging with your son immediately after he bites. This also subjects kids to the natural consequence that you don't want to interact when he hurts you. Put him down, completely ignore him, and focus on where you were bitten. (I do not recommend walking out of the room, because that triggers the baby's abandonment panic so forcefully that he forgets all about the biting lesson -- and it traumatizes him.) Cry loudly as if you are in pain. This may well alarm your son to the point of tears. Keep ignoring him for a full minute. You want him to take this seriously. Finally, if he is crying, pick him up and comfort him, saying "It's ok, Mommy is ok now, but biting hurts. You hurt Mommy. We never bite. We HUG? Ok?" Give him a big hug.

7. If your son is ever around another child who bites, keep them apart for awhile. Biters do tend to reinforce each other. And if you notice any biting scenes in anything he watches (for instance, there is a biter in Madagascar), stop watching those shows. He's learning from everything he sees.

8. Find books that deal with biting to read to your son. One that is available as a board book is Teeth are Not for Biting by Verdick and Heinlen. There is also a flap book by Karen Katz called No Biting.

Be reassured that as kids gain words and impulse control, even the most dedicated biters do stop biting other people. But hopefully these suggestions will help your son stop biting you immediately. Good luck!

Dr. Laura

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