Friday, October 20, 2006

When your Child is a Biter, Advice from a Mother

By Christina VanGinkel

When my oldest son was just a toddler, he developed the habit of biting. He bit both me and his father, he bit his younger sister, he bit his toys, and he even tried to bite our family cat. We tried to deal with the situation as best we could. We took him to the pediatrician who told us that he was most likely experiencing teething pain from a stubborn tooth or two and once they came through, he would probably stop biting. He told us in the meantime, we should try to soothe any mouth pain he was dealing with, and just do our best to keep him from biting. Too young to ask exactly why he was biting, we grasped onto this bit of advice and did what we could.

What followed were several months of near torture for all those around him. We did use products such as infant Orajel, an oral-care mouth pain reliever and similar products, which were supposed to numb his gums and relieve teething pain. We stocked up on teething products such as teething biscuits; I even made him several Boo-Boo bunnies from washcloths, minus anything he might bite off and choke on, and always kept one in the freezer for a fresh replacement. The amount of his biting did lessen. We also told him a firm no each time he did bite, and we kept watch that he never had access to his baby sister or the family cat. After a couple of teeth came in and he kept biting though, we knew there were other issues at hand. If he was tired, he bit. If he was stressed, he bit. If he did not get his way after a while and really wanted something badly enough, he dealt with his frustration by trying to bite one of us. A repeat visit to the pediatrician with this new information did not get us much more in the way of helpful advice anymore than the first visit. In retrospect, we should have gone to a different doctor, but we did not. He was an otherwise healthy child, and he just assured us it was a phase, albeit a dangerous one for those around him and for his self too. I later learned that his father, my very own husband, was a biter as a child and actually bit through an electrical cord. He received sever burns on the inside of his moth and it accounted for the scar on his lip that I just had never questioned him about in our then early years of marriage. It all even sounds somewhat funny now, years after the episode, but at the time, it was anything but. It was one of the most traumatic episodes we ever went through in raising our three children, barring illnesses and injuries.

Everything came to a halt one day with the biting in a way that I never would have recommended, did not approve of, yet to this day wonder what would have happened had it not. Our son by this time was about two and a half years old. His biting episodes had decreased immensely over the last few months, though they still happened when he was tired or stressed. He was staying the afternoon with my husband's elderly aunt, for a reason I cannot now remember, though it was a rare occurrence as we rarely left our kids except with each other. We arrived to pick him up and my husband's aunt assured us that he would never bite again. Her granddaughter was also at her house, a year older than our son was, and he had bitten her. Not seriously, but he had left marks on her arm. Quite traumatic for a three year old I am sure. His aunt had handled the matter by threatening to pull his teeth with pliers! She actually told us this. We never left him with that aunt again, though he never shied away from her at family gatherings either. He also never bit anyone after that day, never even attempted to.

When this happened, as I said before, his biting episodes were already lessening, and I wonder if that was the real reason he stopped. I also learned a valuable lesson myself that day, and that is to be very careful whom you leave your children with, even if it is a relative. Some kids do go through a phase of biting, and most leave it behind as quickly as they come into it. Biting can be dangerous as evidenced by my own husband's accident as a child with the power cord. If you find yourself in such a situation, handle it as if it were as serious a matter as it is, and take a bit of advice from this mother, do not leave your child with any well-meaning relatives!

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