Sunday, June 14, 2009

Crime and Punishment

As you can tell from this week's lovely Wordless Wednesday pictorial, we have an ankle biter on our hands. Well, not the ankle exclusively. Shoulders, chest, arms, thighs - even my big toe has fallen victim to Nate's overzealous chompers. The origin of this loathsome new habit of biting - insanely hard - is quite the enigma. My best guess is that he is the latest devotee of the Twilight/True Blood "fanpire" series'. Damn television. Already warping my kid.

In all seriousness, I'm unsure of the exact time this mannerism started. I remember his rooting reflex as a newborn, as he bobbed his head, pecking for a nipple like a hen for grain. This instinct disappeared just in time for the drool and discomfort of teething. I recall a smidge of toothless "gumming" originating around the 6-month mark, just prior to when teeth first made their grand entrance. Mostly on his own fingers. But now that said teeth have fully emerged, he seems to have discovered a novel way to put them to use. At 10.5 months, the biting is getting worse by the day. And with eight teeth, it certainly doesn't tickle. As a matter of fact, he has bitten me hard enough to leave welts and bruises on my skin.

It has to end. STOP. NOW. I absolutely, positively do NOT want to be the mom who gets a phone call that her child bit a classmate in preschool. The mom who avoids playdates because her son can't control his animalistic tendencies. The mere thought is mortifying. Not to mention it FREAKIN' HURTS. I do not like wearing long sleeves in summer to hide the evidence of abuse.

Let me say, I don't *think* this is in any way related to teething. I've been scrutinizing his behavior and searching for triggers so I can preempt the munching. Instead, it seems to occur as the result of (a) overstimulation or excitement and (b) frustration.

As far back as I can remember, Nate has been easily overstimulated. I personally believe that his colic, in large part, was due to his inability to process his environmental cues. He can better manage his senses these days but he can still become excitable. For example, if we've been playfully crawling around together and I collapse on the floor, he will crawl over to me and nuzzle affectionately. Charming, right? WRONG. That sweet, innocent hug quickly turns into a piercing "love bite".

Furthermore, if I'm on the computer or phone and he wants my undivided attention, he will accost me, crawl or walk over to me and bite me on the closest appendage. Since he is incapable of verbalizing his irritation, he bites as a way of communicating his disgruntlement. Sometimes, I think the bugger does it because he knows he'll get a reaction out of me.

Both situations - while understandable for a baby his age - are simply unacceptable. He HAS to learn. But how?

They say the punishment should fit the crime. But at this age, he doesn't have the capacity to understand right from wrong. He's not 2 or 3 years old. He has no idea that what he is doing hurts others. Nor can he tell me exactly what is bothering him.

I will NOT go medieval as some have suggested and bite him back. While it may, in fact, relieve the biting, what exactly does this teach? It's okay for Mommy to bite but not you? I don't want to reinforce that violence is an appropriate method of handling his emotions. Besides, I can't in good conscience bite my baby, even if it is to teach a lesson. There has to be a less aggressive means to get my point across.

I tried substituting a teething toy after the incident but it did nothing to hinder the situation. He'd just toss it aside listlessly. I even tried to put on an act, pretending to wail. But all he did was look at me and laugh in my face. Real sympathetic.

The only action that has shown any relative success is a stern "NO BITING" along with a time-out. Saying "NO" seems like common sense but when your first instinct is to scream, "F^%&*#$@! OUCH!", maintaining your composure can be problematic. After a firm rejection, I remove him from my body and ignore him for 60 seconds. Most times, this results in tears and a tantrum. But I walk away or put him down and leave him to his devices for one whole minute. When I return and pick him up, I sometimes get a second bite and other times, I am in the clear. My odds are about 50/50 right now.

I want him to learn that biting isn't going to get my attention - it's going to lose it. I'm hoping that with consistency in the punishment, my stubborn offspring will get the hint and quit cold turkey.

Do you think I'm on the right track? How would you handle this?


Stacie said...

Sorry you are going through this stage. One of my sons went through this, too. We did the stern "No!" thing, with limited success because as you say it is hard to not freak out from the pain. One thing that did help in our situation was to "feed the bite." Wherever you are being bitten, push into the bite. They do NOT like this and let go. Worked for us every time, and his biting stage was relatively short lived once we started to feed the bite. (They taught us this technique at my school to help us when dealing with emotionally disturbed teenagers who bite--OMG I can't imagine what that would feel like. A baby's bite is bad enough!)

Good luck.

sacredandscarred said...

TTG is the same age and has bitten a bit here and there. It hurts and has left bruises! For him it's related to teething and hunger though (if I'm too slow to sit down & nurse him).

It sounds as though Nate is trying to communicate with you. Can you anticipate the bite in some situations and given him the attention that he needs in order to avoid it? If he's biting to get your attention, isn't ignoring him counterproductive?

TBB was a biiiiiiig biter, for fun it seemed. It didn't last long and at 5 he doesn't go around biting other kids at all.

I really wouldn't worry too much, he won't be biting forever :) This too shall pass...........