By Penny Musco
My daughter has left a trail of teeth marks from the Midwest to the Atlantic coast, being a serial biter from the age of eighteen months to 2½ years old. She bit my husband when they played together. She sunk her incisors into other children in the church nursery and at the gym where I worked out. During the summer of our discontent, as I stood at the sink doing dishes, Miriam would toddle in and painfully nip the soft flesh on the back of my thighs.
What could possibly provoke this behavior, Joe and I wondered? Did the sight of my pale skin exposed by my shorts (and right at her height, too) prove irresistible to her seemingly insatiable hunger to clamp down on anyone in sight? Were we somehow to blame, as one victim’s parents implied when complaining that Miriam’s tooth marks were still visible on their child’s back after three days? My most mortifying moment came when she drew blood from a boy’s cheek while I was striking up an acquaintance with his mother in our parent/child swim class.
Needless to say, Miriam had quite a reputation and it wasn’t good. She was, quite frankly, a menace in the hood. My husband and I were at our wits’ end. Our pediatrician offered little guidance, merely remarking that she’d grow out of it, and we should under no circumstances bite her back. Child care books basically advised the same thing. While we agreed, we were desperate to do something to help us now!
We finally figured out that that Miriam’s need to nibble usually manifested itself when she was excited or frustrated. While we could control what happened at home to some extent (mostly by watching our backs!), we didn’t want to isolate her or ourselves, so we devised a plan for when she was with other children without us to supervise her. First, we alerted the caregivers to the problem, and then one of us crouched down, looked Miriam squarely in the eye and said: “I don’t want you to bite anyone while you’re here. Biting hurts and it’s naughty. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she replied. We then reiterated the message: “Now, what did I say?”
“No biting.” When we returned, we asked the adults for a report, praising Miriam if she was able to restrain herself, and expressing disappointment if she hadn’t.
I would love to say this totally stopped the biting, but it didn’t. What it did do was help us feel more pro-active, and more importantly, our daughter got an early lesson in self-control.
Thankfully, Miriam did outgrow her biting habit. Other kids no longer feared her, and I confidently wore shorts the following summer, knowing my legs were finally safe.