It was a shock when my one year old daughter learnt to bite me. She seemed to find it so amusing. I tried saying ‘ow’! loudly, or ignoring it, but that didn’t stop her. She’d often bite me when I was busy, and distracted, if I was holding her while trying to write an email, or in a rush trying to get ready to go out.
I knew through my understanding of Parenting by Connection, that biting is really a sign of fear. There was nothing intrinsically fearful about me paying attention to something else for a short moment, but somehow this small disconnection was triggering a bigger fear.
All children experience fear, from everyday situations such as falling over, or being separated from a parent for a short time. Then there are bigger more stressful events such as medical intervention, or a traumatic birth. Our children can recover from these stress or upsets, by crying, but they don’t always tell us about their fears in a straightforward way! When something stressful has happened they often need an extra big dose of connection with us, before they can release their feelings.
The biting wasn’t so bad, as usually I could deflect her teeth from chomping down on me. However one morning when I was busy getting ready she bit down on my arm and wouldn’t let go of me. We stared at each other like wild animals for about thirty seconds. I couldn’t do anything to make her let go! For the first time I felt intense anger. I knew then that I needed to do something. So far it was only me that she bit, but I didn’t want her to start doing it to other children.
I decided to give my daughter some Special Time. This is when we listen to what our child wants to do, and follow their lead for a timed period. I had to ignore the thoughts in my head, that my daughter didn’t ‘deserve’ special time, and remember that was just me being triggered. I had to remember that the biting is a sign of fear. She didn’t mean to hurt me, she was trying to tell me how she was feeling in the only way she knew how. As I got down on the floor and began to play ball with her, I reflected upon what must have scared her. My pregnancy had been easy and straightforward. We had relatively stress free, happy lives. However her birth had been difficult. A long induction that ended in a vacuum extraction. I thought of the book, Birth without Violence, by Michel Odent, and felt so sad that she had experienced violence as such a tiny baby. I no longer felt angry, and began to cry suddenly feeling such empathy for her.
Later I experimented with using some playlistening to help her release some of the fear. When she tried to bite me, I would scream and try to crawl away. We had a few giggles as she chased me around the bed. I also gave her a pillow to bite which she enjoyed attacking! We had fun playing this game. My daughter seemed to enjoy the chance to play in a way we hadn’t before. To be given permission to express her power in play. It reminded me of the way kittens play, biting and scratching gently not wanting to cause pain, but just playing for fun. I began to understand that if I gave her opportunities to play in this way, then perhaps she wouldn’t feel the need to bite at other times.
My daughter would also scratch my face, particularly when she was tired. One afternoon when I was cradling her in my arms before sleep, she started scratching me. I moved her hands away and then began to initiate a game. I would say in a playful tone,
‘’you are my lovely sweet baby, so sweet and gentle,’’ and I would look into her eyes, and gently stroke her face or her foot. Then she would attack me with her arms grabbing or her legs kicking. I would respond by moving in close and giving her a hug to ‘protect’ myself. This elicited a lot of giggles. She really got into this game, and understood that my words and gentle stroking where a signal for her to attack! She was laughing much more than with our earlier playlistening games, and I could see her becoming more and more relaxed as we continued. She was peaceful and joyful. We were making a lot of eye contact. I felt like I had finally found the right game to help her release tension. It was a beautiful moment of connection where she could bring her up her aggressive feelings, and I could respond with affection and love. We finished the game and she fell asleep within seconds. That is a rarity!
The next day when we were getting ready to go out, my daughter bit me. I did not have time to play games, so without thinking I gently set a limit. I picked her up and told her ‘’please don’t bite me.’’ She started to cry, very suddenly and powerfully. I sat on the floor, as I cradled her in my arms. After that day my daughter stopped biting completely! I also began to see other signs, that she was discovering her natural confidence. Whereas before she would often be clingy and wanting to be picked up all the time, she now plays independently, at least some of the time. And I feel more at ease and accepting of what’s happened. Her birth may have not been what I wanted, but she can recover from this early trauma, using the natural healing process of laughter and tears. I’m letting go of my regrets about her birth because that was a time when I didn’t have many choices. As she grows up, I can make the choice of how I parent her, ensuring that she will grow up without violence, only love.