Mabel’s a biter.
There. I’ve said it. It’s the worst thing your child can be, until they grow up and become a druggie or a republican or a dirty hippie or whatever your bag isn’t, baby.
I’m sick of blogs that make you think everyone else’s children are perfect, and of making myself feel that I’m a crappy parent because of this one thing. So I’m telling you here and now that this is what’s been going on, and it’s not fun. I’m also willing to bet I’m not the only one of you who has had a child with a horrible phase, and I think we need to talk about it.
When she was younger, maybe a year ago or more, she went through a biting phase. Happily, it was short-lived and I didn’t have to be the mother of the biter. But now she’s doing it again so, for now, that’s what I am, again.
I know when she does it and how it happens. She’s not attention-seeking, and I don’t think she’s even pushing boundaries. When she’s seeking attention, she leaps up and down and rudely interrupts my conversations with adults. When she pushes her boundaries, she walks up the down-slide smirking and casting sideways glances at me to make sure I see how good she is at being bad. This is not how she bites.
It happens when she’s tired. Because right now we’re in a huge sleep upheaval – the good sort where she is finally, praise the lord, learning to sleep all night, alone, in her own bed, without waking – on the days after the nights where that doesn’t happen for one reason or another, she’s exhausted. I daren’t let her nap midday – last time I did that, a one-hour nap led to a three-hour-late bedtime, and the whole, horrible, cycle was perpetuated. So we just have to plough through, and sometimes other people are the innocent victims.
When she bites, it’s because, although she may look perfectly content from the outside – watching tv, playing happily with other children, going about her own business – she’s actually teetering on the brink of exhaustion. Something small happens, and she snaps. Her instant, instinctive, uncontrollable response to the anger she feels then, is to bite.
I have a temper. I do, really. It’s been tamped down by time and effort, but I still remember the feeling of having to lash out. I still remember slapping friends who got my goat so badly I had to do something about it. (And I was probably nine or so for that memory – I can’t imagine what I did when I was three.) I remember making a conscious decision to snap a pencil in half rather than hurt someone. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying. So she probably got it from me, is what I’m saying.
I’ve also been the mother of the bitten, when the shoe was on the other foot, and that’s no fun. I know how people feel about biters; I’ve felt it, I’ve listened to the gossip, I’ve avoided certain children and watched them like a hawk. I would not blame anyone I know for feeling that way about Mabel at this point in time.
Three-year-olds do not have much impusle control. It is easily eroded by fatigue, hunger, a long day, a frustrating scenario. They can ask nicely and use their words and share beautifully and even sometimes delay gratification in the morning. But come the witching hour, all bets are off. We’ve talked about feeling angry, and things you can do when you feel angry, like stamping your foot or jumping up and down, or punching a cushion. When she’s tired, there is no space of recognition between the feeling and the reaction, so there’s no time for me to redirect her or for her, yet, to redirect herself.
I have thought a lot about this lately. We’re using a star chart for other things, we’re bringing more order into our lives now that school has started, we are settling into a routine. I am trying with all my might to get Mabel’s sleep on track, because I am 100% sure that’s the key to all of this. That, and time. Time for her to not be three-and a-half any more. Time for her to stop doing it. Time for her to work out what to do with her anger, even when she’s not feeling her best. Time for the bitten to forgive and forget.
Time for me to believe in her, and in me.