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Teething, Biting & Being Mean

"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

It was a wonderful and exciting day I lost my first baby tooth!  The entire class gathered round to see the tooth. To stare at the bloody gap. To speculate how much the tooth fairy would leave. (I think I got a dime per tooth.) And, for some crusty first graders, to completely deny the existence of The Tooth Fairy. (No!!! And Santa? And the Easter Bunny?)

The excitement passed hands within a day or so, as another classmate took center stage with a tooth falling out. 

It was one thing to be the bloodied master of my own destiny, yanking my tooth out of its socket, triumphantly holding it in my fingers, going to the nurse's office and coming back with a small brown envelope and a bloody gauze square!

It was another to be in the middle of the pumpkin toothed masses with big gaps and even bigger teeth crookedly making their way front and center. When that happened, I remember becoming acutely self-conscious. I yearned for my beautifully aligned, small, perfect, baby teeth.

But, growing up doesn't work that way. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Whether for a 6 month old or a 6 year old, two front teeth are a perfect gift! Teeth are wonderfully useful things to have, to use and to look at. Teeth make possible a whole new way of eating, relating to the world and, of course, change a baby's looks dramatically.

The process of teething requires your patience and understanding. It's often uncomfortable or painful and when we have a painful spot, our instinct is to apply pressure. That is exactly what babies do to mama's breast, daddy's shoulder or brother's fingers.

Unfortunately, it usually result in the first act of discipline that a child experiences.

One idea I often hear, and would like to clarify is that babies aren't evil and they don't "like" to inflict pain on you. What they do love is "surprises." When they bite you and see you jump, your face changes dramatically and your exclamation is not what they usually hear. (I hope!) They laugh at the surprise!

Because of this misunderstanding, a number of parents are dramatic or harsh when their baby bites and their dramatic responses may actually prolong their baby's biting experiments, because the baby is looking first for a pattern and then for a surprise.

A respectful way to handle baby bites is try to decipher a pattern of biting, anticipate bites, and avoid them. If baby does land a bite, try to quickly pull the baby in closer, try to stay calm and redirect them with something they CAN chew on - a frozen cloth, a wooden or silicone teether, or a snack.

A kind way to stay out of harm's way, yet connected and communicating correct behavior is to keep the baby on your lap and face them out while putting a teether in their mouth or hand.

As with any discipline, practice makes perfect! And, with 20 teeth to practice on, it is inevitable that you will find a way that works best for you and your baby.

Toddlers who bite are another 'beast' altogether and I will talk about them next week.