Once Bitten Twice Shy

Open up the floor and swallow me, my child is a biter. This is what it felt like when my daughter was at the height of her biting career.  Everywhere I went people were looking at me whispering “watch out for her, she’s got a biter”. I’m sure at the time some of my friends had spoken amongst themselves addressing the matter. Sometimes I would go along to the park to meet them with a foreboding sense of dread, wondering what was going to transpire that day. Biting is most definitely high on the list of undesirable behaviours, and it’s a tough one to deal with because the biter needs to be taught to exercise a bit of self-control. A two year old? Exercise control? It’s no walk in the park, and that wasn’t easy for us either!

They say that children’s biting behaviour stems from frustration in the lack of ability to express themselves verbally. Well it seems my daughter had a lot she wanted to say but just couldn’t get the words out. To her friends, random kids in the playground, and even her baby brother she was prolific. It didn’t matter if we were at home or at a friend’s house, the park or the shops, if someone got in her way, then I generally had between 5-10 seconds to dart as swiftly as possible to reach the war zone before the bomb was dropped. I only ever made it a handful of times, unfortunately getting there just in time give a quick “NO! STOP! BAD GIRL!” and then take the screaming wounded soldier back to the arms of their mother. With that terrible look of guilt in my eyes I tell them “So sorry but my kid just bit yours”.

Not much embarrasses me anymore, but that still did. What was even worse was when I had my back turned and a friend would kindly inform me that my daughter was biting, again. I used to wish that another child would attack her so that she could be the victim one day – it’s so tiring to know that in a group, if there were tears then we ALL knew what had just happened. I knew they all wished I could have nipped it in the bud (sorry, couldn’t help myself) and I would tell them all what courses of action we were taking as evidence to them that at the very least we were doing SOMETHING. But unless you have a child that bites, it is almost impossible to understand that it is a phase and won’t just go away when you so wish. You can either stay locked up at home for a few months, or dare to venture out with social groups to face the music.

I felt that I was failing as a mum because even though my husband and I were doing everything in our power to teach her to express herself in other ways, it took almost a year for her to catch on and stop the behaviour. We talked to her about it. We practiced saying “no stop it. I don’t like it” and “mummy help” and “I’m angry”. I was consistent too and never let it slide, and even ended up having to give her ‘time out’ in public places. My husband made her a book using photos of our family and friends, a cute step-by-step of how to deal with difficult toddler situations without resorting to a little chomp. We read that book a LOT. But there was just something about her that needed to express herself with lock jaw. She used to get angry with her toys and bite them too. I’m serious. She had a small push car and heaven forbid if that car didn’t turn the way she had intended, she would be sinking her teeth into tOnce Bitten Twice Shyhe plastic handle. She even bit herself. Yep. Hard not to laugh when she was so angry she would bite her own hand, much to her surprise, and then come crying to me because she had done it.

I will never forget the worst biting incident with her best buddy on her second birthday. The dads were supervising the kids outside and all of a sudden a ruckus started up, screaming and shouting, and the boys came inside with the kids, both bawling (the kids not the dads, although they were thoroughly shocked). My little birthday girl (flesh-eating monster more like) had bitten her best buddy, badly… On. The. Face. The dads said they were chatting about how it was so sweet the kids were having a cuddle and a kiss until they realised it was more of a pitbull/rabbit scenario. I’m so lucky I still have that friend, even though her poor son fell victim to the strength of my daughter’s jaw more than any other child.

People (the white-haired kind) would tell me “just bite her back, you’ll soon see an end to this nonsense”. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Who discourages a behaviour by demonstrating it to their children? Thanks for the olden times advice Grandma. The end to the biting? I would like to confirm that at six and a half she doesn’t bite anyone or anything anymore. The biting really started to disappear unaided, just about the time my second was born when she was two and a half.

Basically the only course of action is to persist, persist, persist, as is the best course of action for any kind of parenting matter. We read that book, we talked, we practiced verbal expression, we disciplined. I kept her on a short leash and tried very hard to keep her calm in group settings. But even the best of us have to blink sometimes. I had great friends, some of who tried to be understanding, others who flat out just hurt my feelings when they avoided spending time with me because of the biting. But in the end, no harm was done… obviously other than the teeth marks left on a few friends of hers.

Emma Eastman 2013
Copyright 2013

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