You are sitting with your two year old daughter on the sofa, she is playing with a toy. All of a sudden you hear her making whimpering sounds and see that there is blood on her lip. You turn to her to find out what happened only to find that your child had bitten her lower lip. Her little teeth have left marks at the bottom of her mouth. How do you handle this situation? Do you punish the child for biting or embrace him/her in love?
This scenario isn’t exactly an unlikely one as it happens often enough especially during teething periods when baby starts putting everything in his/her mouth out of curiosity. Teething also creates new teeth cutting through gums which cause discomfort which results in a tendency for a baby to bite his/her lip in an attempt to comfort the swollen gums.
n your case it was not just curiosity that led to the biting but lack of understanding and exploring behavior which results from being too young to have good enough judgment. Although this is occasional, some children are more likely to bite than others especially when they are teething. So unless you want future visits with relatives turning out like this one you might want to prevent it before it happens again by following these steps:
Prevention-see if there are signs of new teeth emerging through baby’s gums early enough. If you see small white bumps on your child’s lower gum line then replacement of molars with new teeth is near and the biting could likely happen again. So be prepared by providing a toy that your child can put his/her mouth on to, instead of their lip (like a teething ring) and pacifier if he/she prefers sucking over mouthing objects.
Teach- when it happens you must make an effort to teach your toddler the consequence of his/her actions before they start to associate with real life experiences. So you can either remove yourself from the room for a few minutes or tell him/her in a stern voice that biting is not nice and will lead to no more playing with your friends until we get that cleared up. You can also sit down opposite her and then show her how it hurts by placing your fingers over your lip.
Discipline- you must never discipline with physical actions like spanking or shaking baby which could lead to more harm than good especially if the child has started associating biting with getting attention. As for older children, they might not want to sit beside you on the sofa anymore! So use a time out instead, making sure that she is in a safe place where he/she can’t hurt him/herself and only then return after five minutes as this technique works far better than those used on babies. For babies, be patient and wait it out but always keep an eye on them as some children become highly distressed when removed from parents and will start crying excessively or even become violent.
Prevention is better than cure but if it does happen you want to deal with the problem right away because children learn fast and even one incident of biting can lead to bad habits in future instead of good ones which leads us to our last point…
Prevention through distraction-for toddlers getting their attention before they bite (or hit or scream) will help them avoid getting into the habit of either biting or misbehaving when they are out of control. So talk about what is happening, give warnings like “Be careful I am holding baby” and then divert your child’s attention by giving him/her another toy that he/she can hold (a stuffed animal perhaps) until s/he calms down enough to be safe again. If the problem is stress related due to absences of parents or other people who are important to your child, try leaving a favorite toy behind during times when you know you can’t babysit him/her so they feel less alone and more comfortable than usual.
Summary, preventative steps help but if biting does happen then you need to provide reassurance, discipline (with time outs) and distraction all at once to eliminate bad behavior before it becomes a habit.