Friday, March 13, 2009

A Birthday Party and the Psychology of a Biter

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Above are pictures of Aidan at a birthday party. There was a super cute little fish cake and about 40 goldfish throughout the house. I wonder, Steph, are they all floating belly up today? ;) Birthday parties are always an event to me. You see, when Aidan was a toddler, he was a biter. He has always been aggressive {pinching, hitting} but the biting was the worst. It started when he was around 16 months and carried well into his third year. He bit Robert and I countless times: on the nape of my neck when he didn't want to take a nap, on my shoulder when he wanted to be in the big pool not the kiddie pool, on Robert's cheek when he was trying to discipline him. It was awful. It's also one of the reasons I have dreaded birthday parties for years. If I didn't personally know the parents, I would probably just not go, but if I did, I would follow Aidan around walking on eggshells... watching. A gymnastics party about a year and a half ago was also when I realized how behind Aidan truly was in his language. {He couldn't follow instructions at that party the way the other children did. He played on his own or would re-enter the group only to try to hit another boy and take his ball or scooter.} Like I said, I don't like birthday parties.
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Thus, this birthday party on Thursday was significant to me for several reasons. For one, Aidan wedged himself into the middle of the social boy train that was zooming throughout the house. He was talking and participating, not just observing or following. {After Aidan's assessment, these are details I observe carefully.} He was not aggressive and highly social. To me, these are not autistic behaviors at all. If you are just reading now, you can read about Aidan's autism assessment here. When we got home, Aidan knew all the children's names and talked about what they did and how he felt. And we made it through the entire party with no biting or hitting. Okay, there was a little bit of screaming, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

Back to the biting, it really was a terrible parenting experience. On one of the worst occassions, we were in a toy store. Aidan, then 3 years old, was playing with this marble tower, when a 5 year old zoomed up out of nowhere and grabbed marbles out of his hand. I was probably 2 feet away, but Aidan bit down faster than I could intervene. The other boy let out a blood curdling scream, which sent his mother and a store attendant speeding our way. I didn't see the bite, but heard a frantic cry from his mother: "it broke skin!!!!" The little boy was rushed to the bathroom and treated with with a first aid kid. I sat there, holding back tears and not knowing what to do. The owner of the toy store said he thought the little boy would probably need a tetanus shot. Then the mother came out with the little boy. I told Aidan to say sorry to the boy, and he echoed, "Say sorry to the boy." The mother was angry with me at which point I couldn't hold back the tears. I scooped up Aidan and rushed for the door.
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At some point when I have decades of perspective on the toddler years, I would love to study the psychology of a biter and write a book about my findings. If you are ever in a situation with a biting toddler, go easy on the mom. We told Aidan over and over and over and over that it was wrong with time-outs, spankings, and logical consequences all to no avail. I believe that it was his method of communication. When that 5 year old grabbed his marbles, Aidan was saying no--with his teeth. He knew it was wrong, but he was still going to put the "NO" message out there. I don't think there is a discipline solution for a biting toddler. I have had parents swear up and down that biting back works. But, not only did I not have the gumption to bite back hard enough to make it hurt, Aidan was not to the point to understand empathy. No, the only way to "cure" a biter, is to give the child words. So, at 4 years, Aidan is finally speaking in complete sentences, and the biting is behind us. I think.
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This whole history of biting is one of the reasons I posted what has to be my 5th profile picture of Mia this month.
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I took her to with me to my MOPS meeting yesterday. Ususally I put her in the nursery, but it was a relaxed meeting, so I let her mill about the room. She traveled from person to person, wearing my SIL's purse on her sholder and greeting everyone with kisses and toothy smiles. With Mia, it is so different. With Aidan, I was constantly on the alert. The muscles in my neck were proverbially tight. With Mia, she kisses and hugs everyone--and I can actually relax. So, I love the picture of her above because it reminds me of that difference, of the immense pleasure I feel in her sweet little disposition. I do, of course, love my Aidan, and I admire his intensity and know God will use his passion. Nonetheless, it is nothing short of wonderful to have a baby that gives kisses and hugs in place of nips and chomps.
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The picture above is little Luca and his birthday gift. He's a real doll, as you can see. Anyway, I need to get the kiddos going this morning. I will add that I did eventually see the bite Aidan gave the little 5 year old at the toy store that "broke skin," and it was barely detectable... in fact, I have seen paper inflict greater suffering, thank goodness.

16 comments:

Jewllori by Lori said...

Favorite shoes ever! Those are super cute, definitely going to own those for my boys!

Mia is so expressive! She really does have those eyes that tell a thousand stories.. great picture :)

sarasophia said...

I love these as well.

I wish my boys were still small enough to fit in them!

<3 sarasophia

Ariana said...

CUTE SHOES! I like them very much. Poor Mia! That's the "I'm stuck" look.

Jessica Haley said...

Thanks, Sara and Lori.

Ariana, lol, you are so right--it is the "I'm stuck" look!

Jewllori by Lori said...

Yes My Ross was a biter, though not as long as Aidan was. I remember having to discipline him so many times it hurt me (emotionally). I was sick of having to spank him, and see all the other kids not be disciplined, that just hurt me to the core.

I hated walking on eggshells, making sure noone got hurt. I finally just stopped going altogether to any kind of gettogether where I knew there would be more kids. Being in the mission, its very hard to avoid families with kids, and I finally poured my heart out with those parents and how I didn't get out much because of Ross and how hard it was for me to see him interact with other kids...you couldn't imagine the grace I recieved! Everyone was so caring and understanding. I felt a huge burden lifted from me, and from that point on things have been easier for us...even to the point of my sil disciplining her kids for riling Ross up so bad he started to get crazy...it's been so great to get that out.

anyway, enough rambling. I'm glad little Mia can keep your days somewhat sane! I know you love your Aidan, but I also know how you feel to have that little bit of sanity you call Mia(or I call Evan) the one that you don't have to be stalking to see if he's going to hit or bite etc....

Jessica Haley said...

Lori, I'm really glad that you were able to find comfort and understanding from other moms. I wish I could say this was always the case with me, and while sometimes it was, there was able times where it wasn't. There was one incident when he was 2 when Aidan bit another little girl at school. That mom (Amy A) was so gracious and understanding. However, there was another time where the mom literally told me I was a terrible mother. As for disapproving looks when it came to Aidan's overall aggression, I got those in spades. Thankfully, I have my father's self-assured personality and tried not to take it too much to heart, but it still hurt. I can't necessarily blame them; if I didn't have a biter, I don't know that I would have understood. I think that's ultimately why I ade this most. Maybe some mom will read it and be a little more understanding if her child gets smacked {or worse, bitten} by little Johnny at the playground. Maybe that mom, like me and you, Lori, was disciplinging and watching and praying her buns off, too.

Ariana said...

I had 2 biters. I think biters are usually boys. Maybe it has something to do with the Y chromosome; missing information or something. Or maybe it's an instinct because it was almost always after a toy was taken away. Although one time, my son was at swimming lessons and he bit his teacher. I wasn't there at the time but he had to sit out for the rest of the lesson and that was the last time he bit. I made him make her a "sorry" card and apologize. He was 5. You just have to talk to them and make it really clear that one does not bite other people because not only does it hurt their hand (or other body part) but it hurts their feelings and makes them sad. But anyway, I am glad you can "exhale" at parties now. I definately know the feeling!

Jessica Haley said...

Ariana, it's nice to know I'm not alone! Lori, I was like you, I stopped going to any and every play date, so it was a really lonely time in my life. Gosh, the 3 of us should have just gotten together--let 'em all bite each other and learn their lessons, lol!

The Roots said...

I follow your blog & have never commented before, but I have to now! I was so touched by your honest post about Aidan's biting. My 2 1/2 year old doesn't bite, but he pinches. His sisters, little girls at the park, etc. It is usually unprovoked, I think it is his way of releasing frustration, and feeling powerful and in control. It makes me so sad, for the other children, yes, but also because I know he is expressing the chaos he must be feeling in that moment.
Thanks for being so open and candid about this and the feelings that go along with it for us mamas, I think by talking more about it, it won't be such a shameful thing.

Jessica Haley said...

Roots, thanks so much for your comment. It's a funny thing, aggressive behavior is really normal during the toddler years, but it doesn't make it any less embarrassing or frustrating--at least it hasn't for me. Aidan, likewise, was really frustrated all the time. I think maybe he was confused or overwhelmed. Anyway, I will be thinking of and praying for your little man. :)

The Rose Room said...

Hi there, I just went back and read the autism post, maybe your little boy has Asbergers Syndrome which is a milder form of autism. My friend has a son who has this condition, incredibly gifted child but with some social/behavioural issues that generally improve with age. Just a thought. I have read your entire blog and think he is a beautiful child! Take Crea - Rachaelxo

Amy said...

Luke was a biter, thankfully mostly to us and a therapist or two. But it drove me crazy.
And birthday parties were always very overwhelming for Luke. He is just now enjoying them. I'm so glad Aiden is too. It's very isolating to never attend events and walking on eggshells is exhausting.
Sounds like Aiden is making really great progress.

Jessica Haley said...

Amy, it does seem like Aidan is doing well. He still has strong attachments to toys. Overall, he seems better. We take it one day at a time. My, oh my, he does not have a single "laid back" bone in his body, though.

Rachaelxo, thanks so very much for your kind word and for stopping by!

anne b. said...

I just found my way here to your blog from an Etsy forum. Wow, what a wonderful place, your blog. Reading your eloquent and open words about having a "biter" was soothing -- I've had a biter (or two ... or is it three?...), and I think the hardest thing about it is the judgement rather than understanding and sympathy from other parents, and the resultant stress and discomfort for me. Ah, the eggshells. I think I will always walk on them with one of my kids, but it does get easier as he and I both learn how to handle situations as they arise.

anne b. said...

I just found my way here to your blog from an Etsy forum. Wow, what a wonderful place, your blog. Reading your eloquent and open words about having a "biter" was soothing -- I've had a biter (or two ... or is it three?...), and I think the hardest thing about it is the judgement rather than understanding and sympathy from other parents, and the resultant stress and discomfort for me. Ah, the eggshells. I think I will always walk on them with one of my kids, but it does get easier as he and I both learn how to handle situations as they arise.

Jessica Haley said...

Anne,

thanks for stopping by :) yes, I think sometimes as moms we need to put on a front that everything is "busy but good." Sometimes parenthood it just hard--wonderful, but definitely hard, too. I hope we can encourage each other in the journey :)

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