Maybe she’s picking up on the stress of the pandemic. Maybe it’s because she’s a second-born, with a domineering big sister forcing her to find ways to defend herself. Maybe it’s the frustration of being unable to communicate all the things she wants to say. Maybe she needs an earlier bedtime and less stimulation at home. Whatever the explanation might be, my almost-two-year-old daughter has developed a serious problem with biting other kids at daycare.
We’ve talked with our doctor about the problem, and she reassured us biting is unfortunately completely normal for toddlers and is usually just a phase you have to work through. Some kids struggle with it more than others, and it seems our sweet girl falls into that category. We’ve tried chew sticks and firm redirection and reading books discouraging biting and trying to help her better communicate her emotions. Daycare has been relatively understanding but also justifiably frustrated.
One day, after a particularly tough incident, my husband overheard the mom of a little girl who was bitten by my daughter talking in whispers with the owner at pick-up time. “It’s not okay! It’s just not okay!” she kept saying. When he told me what he heard, my heart sank with shame. I felt her judgment turning my blood to ice. What were we doing wrong? Why was nothing working? And why couldn’t this mom be a little more understanding? Of course, no one wants their child to get bit, and I’m truly sorry it happened, but you can’t exactly force a child who isn’t even two to behave exactly how you want all the time. It’s not like we are indifferent to the problem. She rarely bites at home, so we don’t have many opportunities to work with her on it. I felt helpless and began to spiral, questioning everything about our home and parenting style. Tears of frustration and embarrassment poured down my face when daycare delivered a low-key threat to expel her if the problem persisted. What kind of parent raises a kid so terribly behaved they get kicked out of daycare? With all the struggles we faced this year, was our family about to lose the only child care we have?
I was deep in a pit of mom shame until one of my friends pointed out that beating myself up wouldn’t do any good. “This is not about you. It’s about your child, and she is struggling with something. Blaming yourself won’t do anything to help you help her,” she told me. I realized she was right. And like so many tough moments in my journey as a mother, this situation was teaching me a lesson I needed to learn: I can’t blame myself for every single thing my kids do wrong. And if I do, it’s going to be a very long and bumpy road ahead for all of us.
I thought about the way my daughter presses her face against mine and gives me a big kiss when she climbs in bed with us each morning. I thought about the adorable little gasp she lets out when I select a book she’s particularly excited to read. I thought about the way she hugs her sister when she comes home from daycare, wrapping her little body around her sister’s legs and shouting, “I love you!” This child is full of so much love and kindness, and that is what I’m fighting for. I need to keep my focus on helping her bring out those qualities and learn how to feel her frustration and anger without taking it out on someone else. I need to love her through this, and I can’t do that if I’m letting my fear of judgment run the show.
So if you’re the mom of a biter, know that you aren’t alone and you aren’t doing anything wrong. Take a deep breath, kick that shame to the curb, and get back to helping your kid through it. This won’t be the last time your child faces a challenge, and it’s moments like these when we help our children grow and become even stronger and more amazing mothers.