This is my first born. He is the light in my days, the warmth in my heart, and he has taught me things about myself I never would have known if I had never met him. And, he is a fighter.
Loyal readers will remember a recent post about a classmate biting Jackson, and how concerned I was that he would start biting, and that he was victimized at school. I remember very clearly the teacher saying to me “it was just a misunderstanding, Jackson did nothing wrong. The kids were having a territorial dispute.” Well, OK. Kids bite, I guess.
Last week I got another call from the school. Jackson was bitten on the arm, it didn’t break the skin, he was upset but they iced it and he says he feels better now. OK, I guess kids bite a lot. Then she starts to explain what happened. He was being aggressive with the other children. He got in their faces even when they didn’t want to play. He shoved a child. He shook a child. He is specifically choosing bigger children he knows will fight back.
OK. Wait, WHAT?
I was so worried he would learn to bite from some other heathen at his school, it never occurred to me the other children were biting IN SELF DEFENSE. We had noticed more tantrums and some aggressive behavior at home in the days before this second incident, but I had just been to parent-teacher conferences where everything was wonderful and ‘we just love Jackson, he is a joy!’ so this was quite a shock. He is also very shy around bigger kids or adults he isn’t familiar with, so the thought of him getting in another kid’s face was pretty outrageous.
Sure, he has started throwing things when he gets frustrated. Yes, he has hit me before. I can usually find a reason for his behavior, though, so it doesn’t really surprise me. OK, he isn’t getting enough attention while I nurse Archer, so he’s acting out. OK, he’s flinging his cars across the room because I told him he couldn’t jump off the back of the couch. But his brother isn’t at school stealing focus from him, and he has always listened to his teachers better than he listens to me. I can’t tell you how it feels to go pick up my child and hear “he is such a wonderful helper and he asked for extra broccoli today!” “Oh, no, I’m *Jackson’s* mom, you must have me confused with someone else. My child doesn’t like to clean up and hides his broccoli under the table.”
When I got to school to pick him up he was in a different classroom, away from his usual friends. I was unclear if this was because he was a danger to them, or because he was upset about being bitten, but I could’t ask or I’d have a nervous breakdown. I was absolutely mortified. His behavior at home had picked up just enough that I believed his teacher when she told me (in nicer terms) that Jackson was asking for it this time. I spend long stretches of time with him, I’ve seen him tired and cranky and territorial. I can envision a situation where he is too aggressive with a friend and things get out of hand, because he is very aggressive with his brother despite our constant reminders to be gentle because he’s little and can get hurt easily.
When I told my mother she was positive the teacher was exaggerating because her little Angel Face isn’t a bully and really the school has a biting problem they are trying to pawn off on my little Cinderella Man. “This face? This is not the face of a fighter! This is my special boy!” Now, I don’t think he’s a bully in the true sense of the word, because at 2 and a half I’m not sure the concept of being a jerk and picking on a classmate is something he can grasp. I think he has misplaced enthusiasm, and maybe his friend didn’t understand. Like any toddler, he repeats himself until you respond the way he wants, goes limp when you’re taking him in a direction he doesn’t approve of, throws toys that aren’t working the way he wants, etc. Getting in another kid’s space and wanting to play blocks when the kid wants to play kitchen? Yep, I can see that. He isn’t violent by nature, it’s just something he’s trying out to see what happens. Most things toddlers do are trial and error. OK, throwing the cars didn’t change Mom’s mind about me leaping off the couch. I’ll try it 67 more times, and then decide it doesn’t get me what I want and try something else. This is normal, I’m told.
So we hit the parenting books and websites and the advice is the same stuff we’ve been doing since day one. 1. Don’t get mad. This is by far the most difficult. Nothing pisses me off more than getting mad at someone who isn’t taking me seriously. He perpetually misunderstands my fury as a game, and I am perpetually eyeing the bottle of tequila on top of the china hutch at 9am. I raise my voice and make my best stern face, and he giggles and runs away hoping I’ll chase him. I am three times as angry when I catch him, but he still doesn’t get it. But you know what? Getting pissed and yelling doesn’t accomplish anything, apart from moving me inches closer to day-drinking each time it happens. He doesn’t get it, I get more angry and come dangerously close to losing my temper. There will be a day when my stern look will strike fear into the hearts of my brood, but it is not at age two. 2. Consistently punish the behavior in the same way. This is bogus. We try time-out in various forms, in various places, for various times, and get varying results. However, if he hits me in the grocery store, then what? If the punishment is taking a toy, but at that moment he isn’t playing with a toy, does he understand why I’m taking a fire truck and placing it out of reach? We have yet to find a punishment that seems to resonate with him, because time-out is usually a hilarious game where he refuses to sit still. This one needs work, I admit. 3. Identify the triggers. I can pretty much tell you when my kid is about to lose it. When he’s tired, when his toy is broken or missing, when I’m occupied with his brother, whenever I take or make a phone call (what IS that?), when he remembers candy exists and I won’t give him any, etc. It’s hard to prevent these situations as I am required to feed and care for his brother around the clock and I can’t just stop nursing and look under the couch for the green race car. He is getting much better about waiting for me to help him, though. The other day my parents remarked that he was a little unruly, but they had given up trying to get him to nap, so he was a hot mess. “He came out of his room 4 times so we gave up!” OK, he has to nap or we must all suffer the consequences. 4. Model kindness. We are gentle parents and do not spank or even yell that often, other than a firm “Jackson! We do not HIT!”. Robby bites, though. Rawr ;).
It seemed Jackson had already settled down after last week’s aggression, but on Wednesday I got another call from school. Someone bit him on the arm. Great. Of course,
I’m now assuming a student bit Jackson on the arm because my son had him in a headlock and was yanking the kid’s undies over his head. I found out today that a student and my son were sharing a book, and then the student decided to take it for herself and Jackson disagreed, so the girl chomped on him. Not exactly a brawl instigated by Floyd Mayweather, but still. Today, the principal assured me Jackson didn’t bring this bite on himself, it’s just something that happens at this age. As I was buckling him into the car, I noticed new bite marks that the teacher didn’t report. To be fair, with 11 two year olds in one room I am positive I wouldn’t have a handle on every situation unfolding at 90mph with 22 sticky hands and 11 runny noses. Yikes. So maybe this is all just a phase and we don’t have an aggression problem. I really hope not, because I wouldn’t know where to start. Every website and book gives the same advice, and if it doesn’t work it’s off to the child therapist.
Man, I hope it’s just a phase. And also that other kids stop biting him. It’s gross and leaves a mark and has to hurt like crazy!