Bite Your Tongue

There’s a fine line between voicing a complaint and plain old complaining.  When it comes to the people that are responsible for taking care of my kid, I like to steer clear of that line altogether.  I work hard to act like I don’t care if they feed her generic goldfish instead of the organic crackers I took extra time to pack, or if they keep forgetting to separate the diaper from the diaper cover before putting it in the bag for me to take home (and believe me, these little things, for someone as psychotically perfectionistic as I am, really do drive me crazy).  I do everything I can think of to keep them feeling happy and appreciated – ask about their weekends and their own little ones, buy them nicer Christmas gifts than the other parents, tell them funny stories of how Koukla waits by the front door yelling, “I want to go to school mommy!” when I’m running late in the morning.

But what happens when the question of when to bite your tongue ceases to be so black and white?  What happens when it’s no longer learning to ignore your annoyance that the teacher didn’t fold your daughter’s sweatshirt in the way you prefer, and instead becomes concern that something is amiss in the classroom?  What happens when the more you bite your tongue, the more your child, apparently, gets bitten?

Never too young to learn how to box

Last week, my daughter didn’t stand by the door insisting we leave.  Last week was full of my pleading and prodding, full of her defiance and refusals.  Last week Koukla stopped liking school.

This happens sometimes when I’ve been working long hours, or when I’ve been out of town.  It also sometimes happens after I’ve taken time off with her, after she’s gotten accustomed to all mom all the time.  And sometimes it happens just because.  Or what I thought was just because.

Last Tuesday night, when my husband and I were making dinner and talking to Koukla about her day at school, she happened to mention that a little boy in class had bitten her.  It was thrown in among the other totally normal events that she usually lists in her description of what she did during her nine hours of daycare – I went on the swing, I read books, I played with Jacob, Emily cried, Jared bit me – and I wasn’t sure whether she was just saying it to practice her words, or whether she was trying to tell me about something that had actually happened.  So I asked for more details, and she obliged.  She told me how it happened, told me about the bike she was using that Jared tried to take from her, showed me where on her shoulder he had gotten her.  She even asked me to tell her teacher about what had happened.  Which is what I did.

I should say here that this is not the first time my daughter has been bitten at school.  More than once I’ve gotten the middle of the day call with news that an incident report would be waiting for me at pick-up time, and every time I get the call I do my best to be perfectly calm, perfectly understanding.  But this time I didn’t get that dreaded phone call, I didn’t read the details on a carbon copy sheet of paper.  And when I NICELY asked my daughter’s teacher about it, her response was simply, “Oh, you know, they’re young, he probably just wanted what she was using, and they don’t know how to take turns.

Biting is going to happen.  Hitting is going to happen.  Tantrums and talking back and throwing toys, these are all going to happen.  It’s just the age, I get it.  But the difference between a two year old who bites and a five year old who does not bite is not just the level of maturity.  It’s that someone taught the two year old that biting was not okay, and nor were any of those other bad behaviors that hopefully turn dormant at least for the years between toddler and teen.  How are these toddlers going to learn that this behavior isn’t acceptable if their teachers seem to think that it is?

And more importantly, how is MY toddler going to learn that this behavior isn’t acceptable?  Now, when my daughter acts out, it’s not as simple as just telling her, “That’s not appropriate,” or “We don’t do that.”  Now I feel obliged to add prologue and epilogue and parenthesis, to add in a “maybe that’s okay at school, but it’s not okay at home.”  She’s two years old and already she has two sets of rules, like the kids in high school who made the most of their parents’ shared custody by taking advantage of the house with the late curfew and no questions asked.

But the bigger problem here is beyond behavioral issues that may or may not occur as a result of other aggressive toddlers.  The bigger problem is my own emotional issue that I was in no way prepared for.  From day one, having happy confidence in the quality of my child’s daycare has been my saving grace as a working mother.  It allows me to go to my office every day without the weight of worry holding me back, allows me to focus on solving problems and nourishing my ambition.  Now it’s as though my security blanket has been stripped away.  I’m jittery and worried, I’m constantly checking my phone for calls from daycare all day and obsessively checking my daughter for behavioral shifts when we get home at night.

For all of my hoping and whining, giving up my career to be a stay at home mom is not an option for my family.  Which leaves me where I have spent so much time as a mother – online, late at night, looking for answers.  What I found ranged from not particularly useful (all of those articles on how to deal with the biters, like this one that I posted to the MaW Facebook page) to downright scary (like this one about how daycare turns our kids into savages???).  What I couldn’t find anywhere was an honest conversation about how to have an honest conversation with your young child’s caregiver, or even simply advice on where to draw the line.

This week Koukla seems to have readjusted.  She’s back to standing by the door and reminding me that I’m late, back to pulling at her seatbelt and telling me she wants to go see her friends as we pull into the daycare parking lot.  But while my anxiety is assuaged somewhat simply by seeing my child happy, I can’t help but think it’s a little less cute when I see Jared throw his cereal on the floor at breakfast, when I see Sarah jumping up and down and screaming at the top of her lungs because she doesn’t want to share her dinosaur book.  Every child now is suspect, every child a potential bad influence, a potential aggressor.  And all I can do is stand back, bite my tongue, and hope that the lessons learned at home will stick even when she’s at school.  No surprise, I suppose, that the real lesson to be learned here is my own.

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15 thoughts on “Bite Your Tongue

  1. Sounds to me like you need to trail blaze for the rest of us, and write that article on how to have an honest conversation with your child’s caregiver. My daughter is in a nursery from time to time, and I find myself confused as to when to say something. I’m constantly worried about sounding like the crazy mom that the caregivers are going to talk about when I leave.

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    1. I’m less worried about the gossip they’ll tell about me and more worried about whether they’ll be hard on my kid if I’m hard on them… I deal with my own version of this at the college where I work. Sometimes we’ll get a crazy, overbearing helicopter parent who is just not nice to us, and it’s hard then to separate the kid from the parent. But you’re right, I think maybe I need to write that article – even if only to help give myself some guidance!

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  2. Ack! I’m sorry that happened. On the one hand, I’m a stay at home who totally makes it clear that biting is unacceptable and my kids still occasionally bite each other. You are not a bad mom because your daughter got bit. On the other hand, you are right to be beyond annoyed at the caregivers! They should have known and told you, and Biter Boy should be making an apology paper mache’ sculpture or something. You should say something. Having biting be your hard limit is more than reasonable!

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    1. Yes! An apology sculpture sounds perfect! And it would serve the dual purpose of keeping this problem kid occupied instead of of biting someone else 🙂
      Now every time I think of the biter I’m going to think of him padding around the classroom covered in sticky strips of newsprint. Thanks for actually turning this into something that’s going to give me a smile every time it crosses my mind!

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    1. Oh, is there ever a solution with kids? Even if I find just one, there will be a million other conundrums to unravel. That’s the joy and the challenge of parenthood I guess – keeps you on your toes!

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  3. Anna, these type of incidents probably happen in most preschool settings. But you shouldn’t being hearing about it from your little girl first. Her teachers had an obligation to inform you immediately about what happened. You shouldn’t have had to be the one to question them about it. They already know that you are a really nice person, but now they also need to understand that you can be a force to be reckoned with where your child is concerned.

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    1. This is the second time I’ve voiced a concern about the classroom, so I’m hoping they know that they’re on notice now. Believe me, I’m watching like a hawk with a great big friendly smile! And also researching other schools in the meantime, of course… I’m sure this happens everywhere, but you’re right that it shouldn’t be me finding out from the child, and it certainly shouldn’t elicit such a nonchalant response when I bring it up to them. I just wish I knew how much of their response has to do with protecting the other kid, you know? So they can deal with him privately and with his parents, without bringing extra negative attention to it?

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  4. I used to work in daycare. And yes, biting happens at that age. Try as we might it can be impossible to have eyes on every child every second so I’m not surprised that the teacher was unaware. But her response is still inappropriate. I hope that having been made aware of the issue she will work to keep an eye for a repeat or similar behavior from the biter AND use that as a teachable moment. I know that caregivers can get defensive after incidents like this even if they did nothing wrong. I hope that is the case and her response is not indicative of future behavior. Good luck!

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    1. What’s been difficult about this situation is that I’m generally really happy with with my daughter’s care. There’s a great teacher to child ratio, they’re very attentive and loving, and generally speaking, they keep close watch on everything that’s going on. It really is her reaction that stuck with me in a bad way – particularly because the child that bit her has been an ongoing behavioral problem in the class.
      Like I said in the post, my daughter has gone back to being happy at school this week, which of course makes me happier. But I just can’t quite shake myself of that suspicion that set in that morning…

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  5. I’ve been wondering this too. I got a call from my son’s school a couple weeks ago about an hour before pick up time. They said he had fallen and hit his head but he was fine. They had been monitoring him, he was playing happily, ate his snack, etc. No big deal. Until I go to pick him up. The entire left side of his face was red, his eye was swollen and watering profusely. More out of shock than confrontation, I said, “I thought you said it was no big deal.” They said that it had gotten worse since they called. But the thing is, they told me it was his head when clearly the side of his face and eye had felt the impact more. And the more I questioned, the more it became clear that they had no idea what happened. They don’t know what he was playing with or how he was injured (i.e. he wasn’t really being watched). We ended up in the ER that night – he had a corneal abrasion. And now I’m in the awkward position of having to present them with our ER bill, but also, this is a school that we’ve been going to since my almost-7-year-old daughter was 18 months old. We felt fully confident and safe there. Now, like you, I’m not so sure. That safety net doesn’t feel so solid anymore.

    Oh, and one more thing: I have a biter. Mr. Corneal Abrasion bites. He bites mostly when he’s playing and excited and gets overzealous but that doesn’t make it any less painful. We’re working on it. If it happens again, maybe forget the teacher and have a word with the kid’s parents?

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    1. I’m so sorry you had that experience. I went through something similar last year when my daughter was still perfecting her walking skills, and she went face-first into a bookshelf. They called me and said that one of her front teeth was a little loose and she had a small cut on her lip, but that she was happy and had eaten and everything was fine – no need to pick her up early, for example. Luckily, I was still adjusting to the notion of having her in daycare and was pretty hysterical about anything happening to her, so I went to pick her up almost immediately after they called. Her whole face was swollen and bruised, and her tooth wasn’t just loose, it was bleeding and twisted around in the wrong direction. Fortunately everything turned out okay (after several visits to the doctor and the pediatric dentist) but it was my first lesson in daycare speak – which is to say, when they call you with bad news, it’s almost always a lot worse than what they’re telling you. I don’t know how much of this has to do with liability issues, and how much of it is just them not wanting to make themselves look bad. Either way, it really does a number on us concerned parents who rely on our surrogate caregivers to instill a sense of trust and comfort.
      And as for talking to the parents… if it was just the biting, I might consider it. But unfortunately this little boy isn’t biting because he’s overzealous, he has a lot of other behavioral issues going on. My sense is the parents are having a hard enough time as it is. My daughter will survive (and maybe with the upside that she’ll end up just as tough as the boys?), so I’m not sure I want to pile onto their troubles…

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  6. I sympathise with you as we have recently been dealing with something similar. In fact my son started a different school in September than the one he now goes to. We had to pull him out when it became clear that the first school was very badly managed by a headteacher who was unable to control the kids AND the parents. (For the latter, one of the moms said before a PTA meeting that if “anyone dares rile her up, she will shove a knife up their a**” – nice eh? Can you imagine how their kids behave?). I later heard it was common for my son to get pushed around or hit. I cannot tell you how angry this made me. Angry is an understatement – I am not sure which words to describe the feeling of utter fury, helplessness and desire to keep my child safe but being unable to do so. The school where he now goes to is very strict and has a strong emphasis on discipline. Things still happen and kids misbehave but they are taught right from wrong and disciplined when they do. As a parent I find it really hard to bring these things up with teachers as I don’t want to be seen as difficult or end up having my son “punished” because the teachers don’t like his mother. Whenever we have had to talk to the teacher I try to do it in a way that makes us seem like we are asking for their help. E.g “my son is finding it hard to do the homework you assigned, do you have any tips how we could encourage him?” When I am actually wanting to say “please review the homework you assign as it is too much/too difficult”. I think she gets my point but feels less critiqued.

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    1. This story just makes me want to cry! Lately my daughter has developed a random fear of cars and dogs, so when we are out for a stroll through the neighborhood she keeps asking me to pick her up and keep her safe. I used to tell her, “don’t worry, mommy will keep you safe,” and now she just keeps repeating that phrase to me every time she’s scared, “mommy keep me safe, mommy keep me safe,” but I know that there will come a time when I won’t be able to keep her safe from every last thing and it breaks my heart!
      It’s such a fine line between voicing your concerns and getting marked as a problem parent. I’ve seen it happen to another parent in my daughter’s class. This mom is very vocal about everything that’s going on, whether it’s them forgetting to wash the blankets or not helping enough with the potty training, and I hate to say so, but the teachers do treat her child differently because of it. He’s a very sweet, VERY shy little boy, and they are simply not doing all they can do to make him feel safe enough to come out of his shell. I say this because my daughter is also very shy, but they have been so wonderful with her that this isn’t a problem for her anymore at school. Maybe the different treatment doesn’t have to do with the complaining mother, but I have a hard time understanding what else could be the reason.
      For the meantime, I’m happy to let this other mom voice the complaints of all of us, but am also certain to give her little boy extra attention while I’m getting my daughter checked in for the day (not in a weird way though, I promise! I know this mom and her son from outside of daycare). AS my daughter gets older and into regular school, though, I don’t know that it’s going to be so easy, seeing as I actually work in education and have spent a LOT of time studying primary and secondary education, know a lot of teachers, and have spent a lot of time in all sorts of classrooms. Basically, I know my stuff in a way I don’t know early child development. It’s going to be tough for my daughter’s grade school teachers to get anything past me, and even tougher for me to keep my mouth shut.

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