Dr. Sarah (00:02):
Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.
Hey, welcome back. I have Dr. Emily Upshur and Dr. Rebecca Hershberg here, and we are going to be answering a listener question because it is beyond the sessions here at Securely Attached. Happy Thursday.
Dr. Emily (00:57):
Hey, great to be here.
Dr. Rebecca (00:59):
Always a pleasure.
Dr. Sarah (01:01):
So today this is a question that was DMD to me about how we can handle biting when our child is still really young. I found and listened to your podcast on biting, which by the way was episode 81. If you guys want to go back and listen to that. So she says, we’re having a bit of issues with biting, but my daughter’s only 16 months old, and I feel like a lot of these things are for older toddlers and by these things I think she means a lot of the tips and strategies we’ve talked about are for older toddlers. So then she continues. She does understand when we say no bite, no biting, and we remove her from the situation. She typically bites if she doesn’t like something that’s happening holding her hand for walking big sister in her face. But a lot of it is projected onto the little girl at the sitter’s house, which we feel is maybe due to jealousy.
Do we just continue to say no bite and removed from the situation with the other little girl? She’s a very sweet girl and it’s not angry when she’s doing it. So this is definitely a super common thing, and I’m glad that she wrote in to help us distinguish between like, okay, there’s a lot of information out there and how to respond to biting when toddlers do it, which obviously when you’re 16 months old, some of those language-based interventions just don’t really work as well for a 16 month old. So I’m glad this mom is saying very little when she’s intervening. I think affect and tone and confidence and body language is going to be so much more useful in terms of what to actually do when a kid bites. But yeah, so I guess this idea of how do we take some of the things we’ve talked about before about biting and understanding it as developmentally appropriate in a lot of situations for slightly older toddlers. How do we bring that down to babies? Because biting definitely happens a ton with babies too.
Dr. Rebecca (02:56):
I mean, I think biting is a normal developmental phase. I don’t love the word normal. A typical developmental phase, kids at these really young ages are experimenting with their bodies and their muscles and figuring out what works when and when I move it this way and that way. And then it’s the age where they’re pulling on lights and whistles and their toys. It’s like, oh, and when I make this mooch and the person hurts. And so I really believe that it’s just about physical separation. It’s really just about like, oh no biting. The mom said, I think she’s doing everything right and you pick up a baby and then you move to a different place. I mean, there are families that I’ve recommended, maybe you do a ten second if they’re holding you and they bite, you kind of put them down for 10 seconds and you say no biting and you hope that they make the association.
I think it depends on the kid and how often it’s happening and it’s one of those take it or leave it interventions that I don’t know that I’d say, oh, absolutely, you have to do that, but if you wanted to try that, sure. But I don’t think there’s a lot that you can do that’s going to decrease your child’s biting if it’s not happening in an unusual way. If it’s happening all the time and you think there may be some real something going on with the kid’s oral development, then by all means talk to your pediatrician. But biting here and there if it feels like it’s exploratory or when they’re excited or when they’re just noticing something or bored, it’s just something to go through. In my experience, both as a mom and
Dr. Emily (04:33):
I also think we always talk about nuance. Know your kid. You might have a very oral child who’s just always putting things in their mouth, and I think there’s something about self-soothing for that. So I do think if there’s a way to replace human biting, if they’re biting another person or something like that, if you can replace it with a teether or there are a ton of sensory tools, even for little babies like necklaces and stuff that have the silicone stuff. If there’s a way that oral soothing is helping your child, you don’t have to necessarily throw that away. It’s something to be aware of. Offer them a finger or offer them something to replace. It isn’t a bad idea either if that’s just how they’re either navigating the world or soothing through different situations.
Dr. Sarah (05:30):
And I mean just in the last two minutes, we’ve listed 15 different reasons why a kid might bite, right? Is it that they’re frustrated? Is it that they’re sensory seeking? Is it that it’s soothing? Is it that they’re exploring their muscles, they’re exploring their new teeth, and I think something else that I often see can increase biting. Again, this isn’t a kid who’s obviously at 16 months old, they’re usually not biting because they’re mad maybe, but they’re probably far too dysregulated when they’re mad to be that coordinated. Usually when 16 months old are mad, they’re just kind of like a flailing mess. And whereas when toddlers are mad, they have a little more gross motor and fine motor control that they actually could bite out of attack, which again, also developmentally not that atypical. But what I find a lot with little kids who are biting is the curiosity and the intrigue of the response of the bite tea. And so obviously if a kid is biting your hand when you’re holding it because you’re walking her across the street.
Dr. Rebecca (06:48):
When you’re holding it.
Dr. Sarah (06:55):
Wait, I don’t get it.
Dr. Rebecca (06:57):
You just called the baby. No,
Dr. Sarah (07:01):
When they’re biting your hand, while you’re holding their hand, it that it being their hand, not them.
Dr. Rebecca (07:10):
Oh, got it. Okay.
Dr. Sarah (07:13):
So if you’re holding their hand or they’re biting your hand while they’re holding your hand and they don’t like because like it or whatever, if you have a big reaction to that or if they bite you, whatever, you’re holding them and they bite your shoulder, whatever it is, if you have a really big reaction, they might be curious and want to kind of replicate that and see if they’re going to do that. Again, what is going on? Obviously grownups can usually have a little bit more control over how we respond to our child biting us. Like you said, Rebecca, we could set them down. We could say no biting. We could just do a whole lot of things and bite a little kid who’s similar in age. That little kid’s going to have a really unpredictable response because, hey, they just got bit and they have no idea how to articulate that.
They don’t like that or to ask for space or to get a grownup. They’re just going to scream or bite back or be freeze, which could be really curious to the biter, and again, this is 16 months old, we are playing and navigating these very novel interactions with a peer because that’s just where we’re at developmentally. So my point is I think we as parents can understand and modulate our own responses and boundaries and interventions when a child bites. And that’s helpful, super helpful. But I think just to ease this parent’s concern, it’s very common when a child sort of discovers biting another child. They may revisit that a lot because it’s really intriguing the kind of responses that the other kids might have, and that doesn’t make them a sociopath. It’s just like it’s curious and things are curious. We want to revisit it.
Dr. Emily (08:58):
Well, even the parent response though, I think to your point, if a parent says That really hurt. Ouch, you hurt me. Don’t hurt me. I think to your point, Sarah or Rebecca, it’s a tension still in some sort of way. It’s an interpersonal exchange that happens. And I think if we want to reduce that behavior, the less full of attention we give it, the better.
Dr. Rebecca (09:24):
Right? I’ve seen it happen a lot with babies or young toddlers who bite during breastfeeding once they have their teeth and they realize, oh, this is a whole new game. I get to nurse and then I bite mom squeals, someone laughs like, let’s do it again in the morning.
Dr. Emily (09:48):
Dr. Rebecca (09:49):
Be aware that just all of that and this idea that it’s right on the heels of something that they themselves did. So they’re starting to put together cause and effect. And again, let me play. I love that we keep coming back to that word. Let me play with that. Let me see the same way I would if I pressed this blue key on the Fisher-Price piano and it makes a noise. I’m going to play with biting again during breastfeeding and see if the same things happen or does something else happen? Oh, now this other person’s here and they covered their face. And as we can be in some ways is, I mean that’s, or a very clear response they’re going to interpret as negative, which is again, potentially putting a baby down, let’s say, or stopping nursing, not making a big deal out of it, but just stopping in that moment, whatever. Those are the only responses that I think might potentially have the desired effect at these stages.
Dr. Sarah (10:45):
But I got to think to my point before, when it’s interactive with us, as we become more aware of these strategies, we can employ them. We can have a low intensity response. We can do all these things that I think are helpful when a child’s biting another child, it’s really hard because that other child’s not going to be able to modulate their response. And so it’s going to be very appealing to keep going and back and revisiting it. So I think an intervention there might actually be, if you know, okay, my kid’s got this dance with this little girl at the sitter’s house, I might need to either myself be a bit of a buddy guard for a little bit there, or have talk to the sitter about a way to be a bit of a buddy guard and know that this kid might do some more biting.
Not because they’re angry, but because curious. And it’s hard to predict. We have more of a tell when we’re getting frustrated that we can sometimes anticipate a bite might be coming, but if we’re curious and we’re playing, and it’s harder as the adult in the room to anticipate when that’s, it’s more, it’s a surprise. Oh, shit, they bit. So I think in those moments, just having that in mind, like, Ooh, my kid’s experimenting with biting a little bit more. I’m going to have to kind of be a little bit of a buddy guard. And when I say buddy guard, I mean you’re actually shadowing your kid intrusively, but kind of being very attentive. And if you see it happen, if you can intervene in the moment before it happens, awesome. If you can’t, because again, it could be very quick, then you just, again, you’re doing the same thing.
It’s just you’re knowing. It’s you’re trying to catch it in the moment. So you can say, oh, no biting. I’m going to move you over here. Again, the response is super neutral. You’re not moving fast. You’re not rescuing them from critical danger. You’re just trying to help them learn that this behavior gets redirected. Eventually, it stops being very exciting. It’s quite boring to be redirected over and over and over again. And they just kind of find a new thing to get curious about, and it can help reset that. But it’s a little bit more work because you kind of have to shadow your kid a bit or have the sitter be more conscious about shadowing the kid in that moment.
Dr. Emily (13:06):
I agree. And same thing, right? Goes to the reaction. If you’re being bitten as an adult or your child is biting another child, you are still a vehicle for how that child reacts, whether it’s you, yourself, or if it’s how you’re quote, redirecting, disciplining, talking to you about that interaction,
Dr. Sarah (13:29):
Right? And at 16 months, I just do so much more physical neutral react interventions, just putting a handout saying, oh, nope, not going to let you do that. I would not overexplain it because they don’t need the words. They really don’t need the words to overcomplicate things they trust. They know what you mean when you say, put a hand and just say no, something else.
Dr. Rebecca (14:00):
Yeah, I agree.
Dr. Sarah (14:02):
Awesome. Well, this was a quickie. I’m glad that we were able to get into biting so fast, and I hope that everybody has an amazing rest of their day, and we’ll see you back here soon with another listener question.
Dr. Rebecca (14:17):
Dr. Sarah (14:20):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.
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