Babies Who Bite

Quite a few weeks ago (I’m really behind, but what’s new?) L was running around and dancing and being generally crazy (again, what’s new?) when he started roaring at himself in one of the mirror’s in M’s room. He got himself really worked up and ran over while I was changing M’s diaper and bit me on the leg. The second I yelled out in pain he snapped out of his self-induced craze, looked up at me and said a very earnest “Sorry!” in the cutest little voice you ever heard. After crouching down on his level and looking him in the eyes I told him: ” That really hurt! I forgive you, but you can’t bite!” This comment was inevitably followed by a “Why?” which led to the repeated explanation that it hurts and the question: “Do you know what it feels like when you’re bitten?” He admitted that he didn’t and I showed him. Yes, I bit L on the arm. Firmly. He reacted with an “Ouch!” which I promptly kissed and made all better adding a succinct “That’s what it feels like.” To which he replied “OK” with a smile and ran off to play.

Only a couple of weeks ago we started getting reports of L hitting at school. Obviously, I couldn’t use the same approach. 1: He wasn’t hitting me; 2: Delayed consequences wouldn’t have made much sense to L; and 3: That would probably warrant a call to child protective services. I had to do some investigating.

First I tried L. That went a little something like this:
Me: “Why did you hit?”
L: “I don’t know.” and in the same breath “Can we play soccer and go swimming when we get home?”
Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere there.

The next day I tried his teachers (keep in mind this is in broken Portuguese on my part):
Me: “Better, today?”
Teacher #1: “No, he hit, spit, and threw his shoes”
Me: “L, why did you hit again today?”
Luke: “Because I did!” With a happy, please approve of me, smile.
Me: “That’s not good.”
Teacher #1: “Talk with him.”
Me: “I do.”

We talked about it on the way home from school, in the evening when Daddy got home, and again on the way to school the next day. We taught him how to say he doesn’t understand in Portuguese so that maybe he wouldn’t get so frustrated with the language barrier and we stressed how it wasn’t OK to hit also giving him alternative behavior suggestions.

The next day he hit a girl in the head so hard with a toy that she had a mark. I was the mom of the boy who hits. Luckily, that day was a Friday, but you better believe I avoided ALL eye contact in the halls on the way out. Nobody wants to be that mom.

I really didn’t want to talk about his hitting again, with him anyway. That weekend G and I brainstormed a lot, I asked other mom’s for advice, and we even considered taking him out of school altogether. That Monday I went to pick L up with the intention of getting the OK to observe in the classroom the next day and finding out what the teacher does when L hits. After getting another bad report I had this broken Portuguese conversation with teacher #2:
Me: “What do you do when he hits?”
Teacher #2: “Just talk with him.”
Me: “What do you say?”
Teacher #2: (in Portuguese) “No, L, you can’t hit.”
Me: “Does he understand you?”
Teacher #2: shrug

I can completely understand where L is coming from at this point. I mostly want to rip my hair out when trying to communicate in Portuguese. Fortunately, I have managed to quell my frustration with laughing at myself. Somehow, I don’t think that will work for L. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to observe in the classroom (what’s up with that, btw!?!), but the director did assure me that she was not worried about his aggression. He has a new sibling and doesn’t naturally speak the language of the classroom. It will pass, she said.

The next morning we made a chart with 5 empty squares on it and I told L that if he didn’t hit at school he would get a star when he got home. I let him choose his prize and he chose a park day. Seems pretty lame, but there’s kind of only one park here…and it’s a big deal. Plus, it was his choice. Nothing like choosing your own incentive for motivation, right? I wrote park day at the end of the row and told him that if he filled up all of the squares with stars we could go to the park.

That day he did not hit!

We got home, he picked out a star and put it on his chart. Things went like that for three more days, but he can’t seem to get that last star. And today, he bit his teacher. I talk with his teachers, every day and am just at a loss of what to do. We all agree that he has to stop, but we aren’t sure how to get him there.

I’m not sharing all of this for advice, necessarily (I will gladly take it, though), but so that you Mom’s of the children who have NEVER hit anyone will understand. And I hope that you will stop judging the parents of the aggressive kiddo in your kid’s class or playgroup. It’s not a fun place to be and we’re all just doing our best in the circumstances that we have.

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One thought on “Babies Who Bite

  1. Oh friend, you are clearly trying so hard! You are a good mom and it’s SO hard to be in that situation. Connor went through a hitting phase and I cried and cried one day when I was told that he was behaving that way (apparently he put a mark on a kid’s head and his mom came in SO mad). I was so frustrated and didn’t know what to do. I just kept trying things until we found the thing that worked! You are not alone!!

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