Pride Goeth Before Tiny Bite Marks

raising non-compliant kids, non-conformist kids, when kids bite, biting toddler, kids labeled, parents learn from kids, parents don't know everything,

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I don’t take credit for my children’s many accomplishments. They are their own remarkable people.

As a new mother I didn’t have this quite figured out. Yes, I recognized that babies arrive on this planet with all sorts of traits wired in. I knew it’s up to us to gently nurture them, shelter them from harm (including the damage cynicism can do), allow them to take on challenges, help them learn to trust themselves, and let learning unfold in delight.

But I had a few early years when I thought, probably with obnoxious smugness, that my wonderful parenting had something to do with how well my kids were turning out. They were very young and so was I.

My oldest, a boy, was thoughtful and clever. He liked to take my face between his little hands and call me every superlative he could think of (“dear, sweet, wonderful Mama). Isn’t this positively swoonable? He rescued insects from the sidewalk, telling them “go in peace little brother,” a line he picked up from one of his favorite picture books. When his father and I tried to talk over our little one’s head about issues we thought he shouldn’t hear, we used Shakespearean language to obscure our meaning. We had to stop, because our toddler began regularly using words like “doth” and “whence.”  What made things work fascinated this little boy, from the bones in our bodies to the engine in our cars, and he insisted on learning about them.

My next child, a daughter, was assertive and talented. She drew, danced, and sang made-up songs of such pure wonder that, I kid you not, birds clustered in trees near her. The force of personality in that tiny girl led us all to laugh at her improbable jokes and enter into her complicated realms of make-believe. Born into a home without pets, her drive to be close to animals was so intense that she kept trying to make worms her friends. Entirely due to her persistence we ended up with several pets by the time she was three.

Although our beautiful little children had medical problems, we had money problems, and other crises kept popping up I felt as if I lived in paradise each day. There’s something remarkable about seeing the world anew through the eyes of the planet’s most recent inhabitants. It’s like using an awe-shaped lens.

But I still had plenty to learn about parenting.

I recall being quietly horrified at a Le Leche League meeting when one toddler bit another. I thought about it for days, wondering what sort of parenting resulted in such an impulsive child. All the parenting books I read, all the non-violence courses I taught assured me there was a right way. Of course my comeuppance would arrive.

My third child was born soon after. This endearing, curious, and constantly cheerful little boy possessed relentless energy. By the time he was 14 months old we had to twine rope around all the chairs, lashing them to the table between meals, otherwise this diapered chap would drag a chair across the room to climb on top of furniture in the few seconds it took me to fill a teakettle. Before he could say more than a few words he’d learned to slide open our windows, unclip the safety latches on the screens, and toss the screens to the ground. He liked to grab the hand vacuum for experiments on his sister’s hair, houseplants, and other normally non-suckable items. He watched with fascination as drips from his sippy cup fell into heat vents, the hamster cage, the pile of laundry I was folding. We had no idea he could climb out of his crib till the evening he opened all the wrapped Christmas presents I had hidden in my room (keeping them safe from him) while we thought he was in bed. The look of complete joy on his face nearly made up for the hours of work it took me to rewrap. I found myself making up new rules I never thought I’d utter, like:

“Don’t poop in Daddy’s hat.”

“We never run with straws up our noses.”

He became a little more civilized by the time he was three, but not, as you might imagine, before he bit a few children.

Utterly besotted by the bright-eyed charm and endless curiosity of this dear little boy, I never suspected the labels doctors and schools so easily affix on non-conformist kids might be slapped on my child.  I never realized how much he would teach me about what real motivation and learning look like. And I never imagined how much he’d show me about what it means to pursue success on one’s own terms.

Today he is one accomplished young man, in part because he continues to see the world through an awe-shaped lens. And I am still learning from the remarkable people who came to this world as my children.

10 thoughts on “Pride Goeth Before Tiny Bite Marks

  1. So Laura, how did you get him to stop biting? Emily’s 3 year old has been bitten many times by another 3 year old. Any tips I can pass along? The biter’s mom is a friend of Em’s and is upset by this.


    • Usually biting children are pre-verbal (as in younger than two) and bite out of frustration that’s significantly eased once they can express themselves in words. (Hence the time-honored parent adage, “Use your words.”) At any age, a child who bites or hits needs to be told that hurting other people is wrong, then removed from the situation till he or she calms down.

      My little darling’s biting happened two or three times, the teeth marks always landing on a sibling. I didn’t reward him with a huge fuss of negative attention, just removed him to a chair with a firm “Hurting people is wrong,” and let all my attention and energy focus on the kid who was bitten. Later, once he was back to his usual friendly self we also talked about how our bodies feel when we’re upset. That’s how he and I worked out an idea. We decided if he really really wanted to bite he was allowed to break a house rule and bite the couch cushions. He felt pretty exclusive about this perk and bit those cushions many more times than necessary for a week or two, usually making wild animal noises, then the thrill wore off. I have no idea if that alternative-biting idea made a difference,

      Honestly, if I were EM I’d consider getting together with this friend in the evenings for grown-up time or in other ways that exclude the three-year-olds until her friend’s child has better self-control. Liam doesn’t need to be the victim or pick up bad habits either. If her friend is open to learning some strategies here’s a great post by a NZ friend of mine who writes a lot about useful approaches to parenting via understanding temperament, brain and body responses, and much more.


  2. Laura, you are absolutely right about the timing of the biting stage. Gaining the ability to communicate in words usually wipes it out…….though I did have to teach my kids that they have to listen to the baby’s words or else it was their own fault they got bitten.

    As a speech pathologist, many times I would see kids who just needed an appropriate way to let someone know they were at the end of their patience. Biting the cushions is brilliant.


  3. This was a hard lesson for me to learn- that how my kids are, the people they were born to be, really didn’t have anything to so with me so much. I’m so glad that God gave me twins. My daughter always went to sleep easily. My son was up 6-7 times a night until he was close to 4. My son had horrible tantrums; my daughter was pretty easy going when she was little. I think if I had just had my daughter I would have thought I was a pretty awesome parent, and if I just had my son I’d wonder what I was doing wrong. This way I could realize that kids are individuals and are unique. I was just loving them the best I could.


    • What a great example. I suppose even if my darlings were perfectly well behaved, having teens far too gifted in observational humor (based on mom) would have cured me eventually.


  4. I too made the mistake of thinking my first child’s temperament had more to do with my parenting than it really did. My second child – the hurricane – has taught me many lessons! I’m convinced if we were to have another baby, I would probably birth the Tasmanian Devil! Great read!


  5. I laughed so much reading this post! It reminds me of my mother-in-law’s stories about raising her three boys, and her third was also her doozy, despite her conscientious parenting; she called him her “alternative child.” 😉 But she always told me that she ended up saying things she never thought she’d have to say as a parent, with all three of them, like your ‘don’t poop in daddy’s hat’ line! Today all her boys are lovely grown men, my husband included. I do think the thoughtful parenting -helps-, but I agree that it doesn’t always determine what actions they will take, especially when still so young. Thanks for the great read. 🙂


    • Funny!

      I didn’t call my third one the “alternative child” but many times called my first the “experimental” one because he was the one I made the most mistakes raising. Poor kid had quite the focused, intense mom. I didn’t even mention my fourth child, who benefited enormously from how relaxed (used up?) I was after the first three kids.


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