What can I do?
Don’t bite back.
Biting them back only reinforces the behaviour you’re trying to stop. You might be trying to show them it hurts and they shouldn’t do it to others, but young kids won’t always make that connection. If you bite them back they’ll just wonder why you’re hurting them or even that it’s okay to bite people when you’re feeling angry. Instead just say ‘Ouch - that hurts, please don’t bite!’ or ‘Are you hungry?’ or ‘Do you need some help? Ignore any well-meaning advice from friends or relatives to bite back.
Find out why they are biting.
- Think about what might be causing the behaviour - frustration? teething? Lacking of verbal communication skills? A bid for more of your attention? Children quickly learn that biting gets them attention. The strategies will differ depending on the cause.
- Avoid playing ‘biting games’ you know “I’m going to eat you you’re so delicious” Young kids may not make see the difference between ‘play biting and real biting!’ If biting might be caused by frustration, check they’ve had the chance for lots of physical activity in their day which can help release feelings that’ve been building up.
Pay attention to the person who has been hurt first.
- Avoid giving them any of your attention instead show immediate concern for the person who has been bitten. Say something like “It’s not fun when someone hurts you is it”. You’re reinforcing how their behaviour has effected someone else and hurt them.
- Clearly explain what will happen if they bite – eg “if you bite your sister, you will need to play on your own for a while”. You might need to remove them physically to stop them biting – try to do this firmly and calmly - not violently. By calmly removing the biter and making them play on their own gives them a logical consequence for their behaviour
When biting happens, try a change of scene.
Suggesting a change of scene might help calm things down faster for everyone.
Physical activity is a great way to use up adrenaline our bodies produce in response to stress. Ask your kids ”do we need to do some running and jumping? Singing and dancing?
Offer alternative things to bite.
Sometimes kids bite because it feels satisfying. Try offering other things to bite – eg teething rings, apples. Remind them that they can bite these things but not people.
Watch for early signs of frustration and distract them.
If your child bites when they get frustrated, try keeping a close eye on them when they’re playing with others and stepping in as soon as you see tempers rising. Suggest a change in toy or game – environment. Suggest some active play for a while – using their bodies to jump, run, dance.
Help older kids understand their younger siblings.
Talk about how they’re ‘just learning’ about what is okay and what is not just like they did when they were little, share a funny story of them when they were little and learning similar things. Enlist their help to guide younger siblings.
Try a calm corner.
A calm corner can be a warm and inviting space, maybe with some pillows, books and toys. Time in the calm corner is not about punishing but trying to offer a new ‘space’ to help everyone feel better. Everyone could join in the calm corner it’s a space for thinking and feeling good not exclusion.
Try time out.
If the unwanted behaviour continues, you could try ‘Time Out’. Time out’ can work sometimes – for specific unwanted behaviours. If you do decide to use Time out, be consistent and focus only on one behaviour at a time to avoid confusing your child. Talk with your kids about the type of behaviours that will need Time Out. You could even write/draw a poster together for the fridge as a direct reminder
Try time out alternatives.
‘Time in’ - where you remove them from the situation but stay with them until they calm down – might be a gentler option than time out especially for younger children. When kids feel better they usually behave better. Sometimes if a toy is causing arguments, you could try putting the toy in ‘time out’ – instead.
Try sticker charts.
Sticker charts can work for specific behaviour you’re trying to tackle. With young kids’ short attention spans it’s best to give out a stickers regularly. “I saw you using your words then when brother snatched that toy off you - you deserve a sticker”
Gradually stretch out the giving of stickers as the behaviour improves. Make sure you give them lots of praise for using their words, taking turns with toys. You could make the reward at the end special time with you, rather than sweets or telly.
Had enough milk?
If baby is full they can sometimes bite to let you know they’re done. Watch and feel for signs they’re full – for example if you feel their tongue moving, be ready to sit them up for a burp.
Every time you think they are going to bite, slip your finger in their mouth to release and lay them down gently. By 9 months they’ll get the idea.
Trouble latching on?
Use gentle words of encouragement to help get a good latch – calming for you and baby.
Try expressing some milk if your breasts are too full to get a good latch.
If you’ve been having trouble for a while, talk to your Wellchild Tamariki Ora nurse or other breastfeeding consultant.
Could they be teething?
If they’re using you as a chew toy you’ll need to take them off gently. Try to avoid yelling – instead press baby gently towards your breast (or gently pinch their nose) to block their nostrils and make them release to breathe.
Offer plenty of safe, cool things to bite on between feeds to soothe sore gums.
Do they want your attention?
Babies can quickly learn that biting mum is a sure way to get her attention.
But if you yell it can frighten them and put them off feeding next time.
Instead try a firm but calm ‘No’ and immediately taking them off and gently laying them down.
Focusing on them during feeding (not on your phone or another task) reduces the risk that this will happen.
Are they more interested in playing?
Sometimes if baby isn’t needing a feed, they might bite in a playful way. Let them know breastfeeding time is not play time by taking them off the breast and doing something you both enjoy instead - like singing or Peekaboo.
And what about you?
Over it? Use your phone timer to set a time limit for a play activity – your full attention for five minutes is better than half pai for longer.
Had enough? You may feel like you need alcohol or drugs to relax – but they often make the situation worse, especially when you have to deal with kids. Who could help you cut down or cut it out?