A couple of days back, Gavin bit Gareth. They were playing in a bucket of water in the shower while I was arranging their things in the bathroom. So although I was present, I was not watching them specifically. Then Gavin calls to me, “Mummy, look at Didi’s arm.” I went to inspect Gareth’s arm and I see teeth marks. Gareth had not cried or fussed so I would not have known about it if Gavin hadn’t brought the fact to my attention.
Gavin is not a biter. He is generally a gentle boy. So to discover that he bit his brother really surprised me. Naturally I went ape at him and I scolded him severely. A little later I tried to ponder over why he would bite his brother. I wondered if he was trying to get my attention by misbehaving. It is common for children to misbehave when they feel they aren’t getting enough attention. That day, I had lunch with some friends so I wasn’t as attentive towards him as I normally would have been when we have lunch alone.
I didn’t want him to think that biting was okay, so I put him in a corner to ponder his actions while I put Gareth down for a nap. When I asked him why he did it, he couldn’t answer me.
Yesterday, after relating the incident to my SIL, she sheepishly confessed that the biting may have been inspired by her actions. She was playing with Gavin and gave him a gentle bite on his arm. It was all in good fun. Now I’m wondering whether Gavin tried to do the same thing with Gareth thinking it would be a “fun” thing to do. He must have been taken by surprise when I reprimanded him for it instead of reacting with mirth.
I wanted to share this experience because it was a good lesson for me as a parent. Every action is open to interpretation and some things are never quite as they seem.
An example my cousin shared with me was when her son crawled up to his sister (who was watching TV and minding her own business) and whacked her on the head. After that, he proceeded to cry. Any parent rushing into the room would have assumed that the older child had hurt the younger child (especially because her son was very young at that time). My cousin said that if she hadn’t seen it all with her own eyes, she would never have believed it. It was a lesson for her never to assume her son was too young to be mischievous.
Growing up is tough. There are so many rules in life to adhere to – some of which can be contradictory. There are also numerous exceptions to the rules. It is no wonder children get confused and are always “getting into trouble”. Returning to the biting incident between Gavin and Gareth above… I often play a game with Gareth where I’ll pretend to bite his fingers. He loves the game and giggles every time I “chomp” on his fingers. Naturally when I “bite” him, I don’t exert much pressure at all. But the fact that I’m biting him and it is deemed okay conveys the message that biting is fine. No wonder they get confused.
Another friend of mine highlighted a similar example of a ball and an orange. When we play with our toddlers, we encourage them to throw the ball. Yet, when they throw the round orange fruit that also looks like a ball, everyone gets upset. I’m sure they must be thinking what a funny world we live in.
Then there is the annoying factor where our children keep doing things again and again despite being told over and over that they shouldn’t. Why do they insist on driving us to the brink by constantly testing our limits? Well, there are a lot of rules to learn when living in this strange, new world. When we play new games, we make mistakes over and over until we can remember the rules by heart. I suppose it is the same for children.
I’m not advocating that we be permissive parents in the face of our children’s misdemeanours. But I think a little more understanding of what it is like to be in their shoes might go a long way in the lesson of discipline.