Tvwb_modern_family--300x300  Dear Dr. B,

  Recently, Modern Family had an
  episode dealing with Lily biting.
  They made a joke about it being
  caused by Cameron's habit of
  playfully nibbling her feet. I have
  a 15 month-old who has gotten
  himself into trouble for biting more
  than once. We have even been
  kicked out of a playgroup because
  of it. I used to nibble the baby's
  feet all the time because it made
  him laugh. I'm wondering if perhaps the Modern Family joke has some truth to it? Also— what do you recommend as the best method to stop a baby from biting?

Signed, ML

Dear ML,

Infants and toddlers are very impressionable and are liable to imitate any behaviors they see from a parent, caregiver or another child. That being said, there are plenty of parents who playfully nibble their baby's fingers and toes and those children don't turn around and bite other kids in the playground. Some, however, have more difficulty with boundaries, and if you notice your child is developing a biting issue, then I would obviously stop the playful nibbling.

If your child does indeed have an issue, the best way to figure out how to put an end to the behavior, is to figure out what the biting fulfills for them.

The following are some reasons why children bite:

•   To communicate frustration when someone does something they don’t like
•   To communicate discomfort when they feel crowded or overwhelmed
•   For cause and effect – to see the BIG reaction they get
•   For exploration and learning with their mouth
•   For oral input or sensation or to ease the pain of teething
•   To imitate other children who bite
•   Because they are tired, bored, anxious, or hungry

Once you have figured out why your child is biting, it will be easier to determine what behavior you can teach your child to do in it's place. For example, if your son is biting while playing with other children because he is frustrated, you should focus on teaching him to use his words and model how to say simple phrases such as “Can I have that?”, “Stop” or “Help” depending on the situation. If he is biting because it produces a BIG reaction, you may need to focus on staying calm, giving him as little attention as possible after he bites and instead focusing all of your attention on the child who was bitten. If your child is biting for exploration and learning, it may be best to provide information about teeth and what they are for (e.g., teeth are for chewing food, not people) by reading one of the books recommended below.

While you are working with your child to resolve the behavioral issue, it is also important to think about what you, as a parent, can do to prevent the biting from occurring. If your son is having difficulty playing in groups, it might be best to play with fewer children and supervise him more closely. In fact, close supervision is the best way to stop biting because it gives your child a sense of security, allows you to help him practice using his words within the situation, and enables you to intervene before any harm is done to another child. Lack of proper supervision, not the act of biting, is one of the main reasons children get kicked out of playgroups.

If I remember the episode of Modern Family correctly, Mitchell and Cameron didn't see the first instance of Lily biting because they weren't paying attention. Therefore, there was nothing they could have done to stop it.

I hope this helps,

Dr. B