Friday, April 15, 2011

Bite Me!

Currently I have four colorful bruises adorning my pale Scottish skin- upper right arm, lower left arm, left hand, and left cheek.  I was attacked in the safety of my own home and my assailant was my two-year-old daughter, Maisy.  
My monster.
Recently Maisy has began to express both her frustration and excitement with her teeth, and I am her canvas of choice.  The scene usually begins one of two ways:
  1. Maisy is super excited about a game we are playing, and in her enthusiasm, plants her fangs into my flesh.
  2. Maisy and Elana are aggravating each other (fighting over a toy, personal space, or simply attention), and Maisy becomes discouraged with her inability to explain herself and chomps into the nearest piece of meat.
So far, she has only bit me and her older sister, but I am worried, and watchful, when she gets into a possessive battle with other children at the playground.  Yesterday, when I took her to the tot playroom at the California Academy of Sciences, I spent every moment of my time there watching her like a hawk and ready to pounce on her if she got into a heated debate with another toddler over a piece of plastic food.  Needless to say, it was not a relaxing afternoon, and after preemptively interfering for the fourth time, I carried her, kicking and screaming, from the toddler zone.

I know that biting is a perfectly normal developmental stage that most toddlers experiment with.  However, I am also highly aware of the intensely judgemental parenting environment that exists in San Francisco.  Each time Maisy got into a skirmish with another tot and started to bare her jowls in anger, the other mothers shot shocked looks of horror and disgust her way.  I could hear them whispering "My son always shares." "How horrible!  Little Olivia has never bit anyone."  Yes, I am sure that their sweet, darling, 16-month-olds are perfect little angels.  Maisy was sweet then, too.

Maisy is also the second, and god help me, last child in our happy home.  Children in this position of birth order tend to be risk takers, attention seekers, and more aggressive.  This is not shocking- with an overly dramatic and demanding older sister, Maisy has learned that in order to compete she must be bleeding from both ears.

So, what should I do so that my youngest does not get our family rejected from all Bay Area play spaces?  I desperately searched the internet looking for ways to tame the terrible biting monster.
  • No eye-for-an-eye, or bite-for-a-bite.  As appealing as this may seem, biting back does not help curb the behavior.  The child most likely already knows that biting hurts, this is why they did it in the first place.  
  • Time-outs or "time-ins" (the preferred new-age discipline).  Separate the offending child from the play area.  This can be a time-out in another room, or a "time-in" on your lap.
  • Model appropriate behavior.  Help the child to voice his frustrations and find alternative ways to express them.  Encourage speech such as "No, I am playing with this," and "You are really bothering me right now.  Would you kindly please step away from my personal space."
  • Rewards chart.  A friend's daughter had a rewards chart set up at preschool, and would excitedly come home to tell her older sister that she didn't bite anyone today!
This morning Elana began taking the discipline of Maisy into her own hands.  When Maisy was sent to her room for a time-out after biting Elana's ankle, Maisy began calling out "Sorry Nana, sorry Nana."  Elana marched into the room and said, "Maisy, I will forgive you if you promise not to bite anymore.  If you don't bite for the rest of the day, I will give you my Belle crown."  Maisy smiled and replied, "Ok Nana!"

Maybe I will just leave the parenting to the children.

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