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Devon Corneal Headshot

When My Son Became A Biter

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There is a lot of advice out there for parents these days. You can browse entire parenting sections in your local bookstore, turn to websites and bloggers, watch old Dr. Phil... even some Jon & Kate Plus 8 episodes have a message. When all else fails, you can talk to friends, family, teachers or pediatricians. Step right up to the parenting buffet, folks, there's plenty for everyone.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm a books and friends kind of a girl. I generally try to muddle through on my own, not because I have some kind of innate parenting confidence, but because I find the rest of it too overwhelming. When I want to know if I'm scarring my kids for life, I ask my husband, buy my parenting buddy a cup of coffee, or look through my limited home library for something to reassure me that Little Dude and Suave Stepson are going to be ok. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my "home library" consists of "Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay," "Get Out of My Life But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?", and "Free to Be You and Me," with a space saved for the soon-to-be-released "Confessions of a Scary Mommy." Armed with these weapons, I can handle most stuff my boys throw at me. There are some situations, however, that call for the big guns, and in those moments I'm glad for the cacophony of advice.

Take Little Dude's biting phase for example. Yes, my kid was a biter. When he was 2 1/2, there was a solid two-month period when I wouldn't let him out of my sight. If I turned my back for a second, Little Dude would sink his tiny, crooked teeth into the nearest unsuspecting arm, shoulder or hand. Refuse to share a toy? Chomp. Reach for the last piece of Pirate's Booty? Double Chomp. Force him to go to bed? Chomp Chomp Chomp. No one was safe.

Most people shrug off hitting and pushing in preschoolers with an understanding, "Kids will be kids," but no one smiles indulgently at a biter. Maybe it's because a random shove on the playground seems instinctive, but a kid needs commitment to take a bite out of someone. Or maybe it's because biting is mean, gross, and really painful. So I hovered over Little Dude at every activity, alert to even the slightest sign that my generally sweet toddler was about to turn into Bunnicula.

In the meantime, I searched for answers. Perplexed Husband and I were stumped and I was getting panicky because Little Dude was about to start preschool. The idea of him in a pint-sized classroom with twenty hapless victims made me more than a little nervous. And because "Free to be You and Me" doesn't deal with biting, I needed help. I first turned to any parent in a ten-mile radius who I could corner. "Hey, want to grab a cup of coffee? Great! By the way, did your kid ever take a chunk out of one of his playmates? No? Do you want a scone?" The nice parents told me Little Dude would grow out of it, that it wasn't our fault, that some kids are just biters. The less sympathetic parents took their scones and left.

I consulted books. I put my hopes in the cleverly titled "Teeth are Not For Biting," and "No Biting," certain that the pictures and simple message would turn Little Dude around. I had forgotten my earlier experience with "No No Yes Yes" which, instead of teaching my son what not to do, exposed him to an array of bad behavior that he hadn't yet discovered. We didn't get very far with the "no biting" books either. I think Little Dude just felt validated.

I read websites, talked to our pediatrician, questioned teachers, and posted on Facebook. We tried everything -- stern no's, long talks, distraction, redirection, rewards and punishments. I found myself wishing he was old enough to understand karma so I could point out the cosmic consequences of his actions. We stopped short of biting him back, although more than one person recommended we do exactly that. Nothing helped. It was a week before school started, and I was at my wit's end.

Then, one day, he stopped. Just like that.

This was great. Fabulous, even. But it also left me wondering -- why did he stop? Was it our amazing parenting? Did we pick just the right disciplinary style to reform our budding vampire? Did all that advice help? Or, at the end of the day, did Little Dude just move out of that phase and on to another? Maybe we didn't matter at all, and had we just sat back and relaxed, we would have ended up right where we were.

I'll never know, so I took a deep breath and sent him off to school with a clean conscience. All I could do was cross my fingers and hope that he had learned his lesson.

And everything was fine... for about two weeks. That was when Little Dude's school's phone number popped up on my caller ID. I was getting The Call.

As any parent will tell you, no one wants to get The Call. It inevitably means one of two things. Either your kid has done something very bad, or he is sick and you have to drop everything, come get him, and prepare for 24 hours of vomit.

A solemn sounding teacher told me that Little Dude had been involved in a biting incident. Crap. Hadn't he grown out of this? Maybe I had been lulled into a false sense of security. My mind began to race. Would they expel him? Can you get expelled from preschool? Wouldn't that be a little extreme? How could I convince them to give him another chance?

"I'm really sorry to tell you this, but the other child broke Little Dude's skin. He's fine now, but we're required by law to give you a call and let you know."

I know I should have been upset, but I wasn't. I figured he had it coming. I also realized that, with all the angst we can put into parenting, all the information we try to gather, all the problems we attempt to solve, all the lessons we try to teach -- we don't have to worry. The universe has a way of working this stuff out on its own. Little Dude may be too young to understand it, but I have no doubt, karma is a bitch.