My child is a biter

What is it like to be the mum of a prolific biter and hair-puller? Anya Whitlock details the pain, the frustration, and what’s secretly the worst part of all.

My beautiful rambunctious toddler has a special gift. He possesses the ability to sniff out the cutest, most placid and sweet child in the entire playground, party or general vicinity. This child always has the coolest parents – the ones who I always hoped I’d meet in the journey of parenthood, the ones who ideally I would remain firm friends with forever.

My toddler’s gift doesn’t end there. He will proceed to either bite or grab that perfect child’s hair, ripping out chunks of precious curls as the super cool mum I just met tries to loosen his surprisingly strong hands. I’m often breastfeeding my new baby when this happens, so I can’t get there in time to fend off an attack. The best I can do is grip my baby with one hand while trying to help with the other.

We manage to pull off the right hand. By the time we get to the left one, the right hand is back in the angelic locks like Velcro. This repeats itself again and again in a macabre loop that would be hilarious if it wasn’t happening to me.

The super cool mum is soooo super cool. Gosh I could really do with a friend like her who has a baby the same age who really “gets” the frustrations that the current stage brings. But instead of an invitation to a play date I receive a sympathetic “it’s OK”. And then, with pity for me but overwhelming care for her child, she move to a very far away swing or tree branch.

So far away that I can’t see my fantasy of ever making friends with another parent from where I’m st-

My newborn screams. I look down. And guess who I see hanging off the end of her foot?

Sometimes we find ourselves at a toddler activity where put my positive parenting approach into action. I look for any patience and kindness my little guy displays and I let him know I saw it and appreciate it. Sometimes 15 minutes can pass without him attempting to bite or grab – and it feels incredible. Finally we’re joining a world where we’re no longer social pariahs! Nobody has any idea what he’s capable of!

Then the screaming starts, and the palaver ensues. I leave the gathering with my head held high, but my heart in a vice as I feel all the feels: remorse for the suffering of the other child, regret that I hadn’t got there sooner for them both, frustration at the sometimes appalling reaction of the other parent. And shame, and shame for feeling ashamed.

When a child is bitten, parents for miles flock to the drama like flies to poo. A situation that could have been handled in a calm manner – not lavishing the biter with attention they were craving (albeit negative) therefore reinforcing the behaviour, or coddling the bitee so much that even the bravest child turns into a spineless leg hugger – quickly turns into a seminar on child behaviour, each orator with a slightly more wordy and descriptive version of the events than the last.

By the time a consensus is reached on what to do, the heinous wound inflicted by the biter has completely disappeared.

Oh someone finally found some antiseptic cream? Oh whoops it turns out the skin wasn’t broken and that rabid infections aren’t rampant.

Where is the mark? It’s a bit red here…

Wasn’t it the other arm?

I think it’s over there… Wait that just looks like an itchy bite that’s been scratched… Hmmm better put a bit everywhere just in case.

What’s the very worst part about having a toddler who bites or hits? It’s not the horrified looks; the exclusion from play groups; seeing the little sibling starting to bite, having been bitten themselves so many times for no apparent reason; the unsolicited articles/studies/books/verbal tips from well-meaning parents on how to modify or control my child’s abhorrent behaviour; or living with a constant apology at the ready.

It’s the relentless tension.

The inability to completely relax and enjoy my little one’s play.

The urge to edge forward toward a situation that I know can be a trigger but not wanting him to pick up on my tension.

Walking the thin line between giving him space to explore and preventing a bite, hit or hair grab.

Failing at this so often.

Too often.

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It’s exhausting.

Anya Whitlock is a mum of two under two and a “Jackie of all Trades”. She works in the art department of various television and film sets in Auckland and Vancouver.

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