Present imperfect

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.

7 thoughts on “Present imperfect

  1. Thrift Store Mama

    Dude, I feel for you. That sucks. Ramona only bites her family members. I’m going to look at my blog and make sure I’m not painting a rosy picture, because I really don’t think that does anybody any good.

    I do think it’s good that you’ve figured out what the likely cause is. I have a temper and I often feel like biting when I’m tired.

    When Ramona was 2, there was a girl in her class who was a scratcher. Ramona still has scars on her cheeks from the child. She had been adopted at 9 months and by 2 years old was in daycare every day from 8am – 6pm and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was angry about something.

    So, maybe a biter is better than a scratcher ?

    Ooh, I also just remembered that my sister was a biter. She’s an incredibly successful salesperson now. 🙂

    1. (Not) Maud

      Thanks for the encouragement. It occurred to me this morning that I could do some role playing with her dollhouse people (dinosaurs, horses, whatever) to help us talk about how to deal with angry feelings. I’m going to start that later today. Every time we talk about it maybe it’ll dig into her subconscious a little deeper, like Chinese water torture, right?

  2. Aimee @ Smiling Mama

    Our Nathaniel is biting and hitting right now. Luckily the biting seems to be just at home among family members but the hitting seems to be everyone. Stuff like this is so hard. But it will pass.

    I mean, it will pass? Right? Right??!

  3. Miranda

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this. And as the mother of one of the bitten, believe me when I say that I never think badly of such children or their parents. Only that there but for the grace of God go I and fingers crossed my daughter doesn’t turn out a biter. This too will pass. Much patience and love to you until it does.

  4. Orla

    I definitely think 3.5 – 4 is a dodgy age. Kate is coming out of it now. She didn’t bite but she does sulk and doesn’t like other children “messing” with her when she’s tired. She has definitely been going through an odd phase since around 3.5. Now she’s going through some other weird phase where she’s constantly hugging and kissing people – which may sound cute but the small recipients of her affection often look like the cat in the Pepe le piu cartoons. You know it’ll pass but I know it’s really stressful when it’s our own little darlings who are doing the misbehaving…

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