We Bite Food, Not Friends!

There's a list of things that you never thought you'd have to say to another human being, but at some point will have to say to your kiddos. Near the top of that list is: “Biting hurts! We bite food, not friends!” Quinn, my two-year-old, has moved full-speed ahead into the terrible twos, and biting has become her favorite shock treatment mid-tantrum. She's quick too—one minute I'm comforting a crying snuggle bunny to my chest, the next minute I'm wrestling a weirdly determined fanged creature away from any exposed flesh. I've perfected the bob-and-weave method of calming a storming toddler, but it would have been nice to have some sort of evasive maneuver training in my new mom years when I was slow and came out with battle wounds.

Toddlers bite for a number of reasons:

  1. They want attention, or they are looking for a reaction.

This is the period in which they are learning cause and effect, so when mommy does a funny little dance trying to avoid those sharp little baby teeth, your kiddo is going to laugh and repeat. Try to acknowledge the positive behaviors more, and not react as strongly to the negative. Be sure to set aside some one-on-one face time with your kiddo, especially if there are some big changes going on, such as a new sibling coming home or moving to a new house.

  1. They are in pain and are trying to self-soothe.

In this case, the bite is more about them than you. Most likely, they are not aware that they are causing pain and can be surprised by a caregiver's reaction since they are just trying to alleviate their discomfort. Keep a moist washcloth or gel teether in the freezer for them to chew on. I like to put frozen grapes into a toddler snack net and let them gnaw on that for a while. I don't have to worry about them choking, but they still get the sweetness and cold from the grapes. Fun fact: you can put frozen grapes in mommy's white wine to cool it down without letting it get watered down. Just sayin’—teething is stressful for everyone involved—don't judge me.

  1. They are frustrated.

For Quinn, her biting is mostly out of intense frustration. She is a very bright and curious child without the verbal skills to express herself. I taught both of my kids baby sign language early, which helps quite a bit, but sometimes I just don’t know what the heck she's talking about and she loses it. In order to effectively stop biting incidents and other aggressive behaviors like this, you have to identify the cause and take it from there. I found that keeping a journal or just making a mental note of the situation helped me pinpoint the fact that Quinn is just frustrated and looking for a reaction.  I had to stop all play biting/nibbling at home to make it clear that biting is not okay. We started replacing biting with blowing kisses to redirect her playful biting. Her frustrated biting has been a little more difficult to take care of because of her developing verbal skills. What seems to be working (albeit slowly) is repeating phrases back to her until she confirms with an excited "Yeah!" It is definitely tedious at first, but worth the decrease in bite marks I have to explain to nosey co-workers who think my personal life might be more exciting than it actually is.

Once you identify why your kiddo is biting, you can come up with a plan to address the cause. Partnering with your significant other, extended family members, and caregivers is a must when it comes to stopping aggressive behaviors for good. My girls spend a lot of their day with other caregivers because I work full-time, so it is extremely important that they know what is going on and what is being done at home so they can maintain consistency in my absence. In fact, inconsistency and confusion can actually make biting worse! And as tempting as it is, don’t bite back! This sends mixed signals and can also cause the tantrum to intensify leading to more biting . . . regardless of what Great Aunt Millie told you.

Remember that biting is a normal phase in developmental behavior and with the right redirection and patience you can make it a very short phase. Mother knows best, so when in doubt, contact your child's pediatrician and ask some questions.