Our 3-year-old’s favorite book is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. We’ve checked it out from the library so many times now, I think we would be doing all of the other patrons a favor if we just paid for it and called it good.
Really, it’s no wonder he likes it so much. I can’t help but see little glimpses of our youngest child in Max’s literary personality. Often, in the midst of flipping from one page to the next, I’ll have flashbacks of his own journey to where the wild things are.
Eventually, he came back—just like Max—but there was a time when I was afraid I might not ever see our happy little boy again.
L was just a few months shy of his 2nd birthday when we moved to Germany. It was a difficult time for our whole family. We were each doing our best to handle the transition in our own way.
I remember taking the kids to the indoor pool on base one morning to escape the confining walls of our temporary lodging facility for a few hours. It wasn’t long before another little boy approached L in the water, wanting to play. Suddenly, my boy started growling—a deep, unsettling sound I’d never heard him make before. Then, completely unprovoked, he lunged at the child as if to attack him.
“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” | Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Thankfully, the little boy’s mom swooped in before L could reach him—and before my brain could make sense of what was happening. The chain of events seemed to happen in slow motion. Understandably, she threw her arms around her child as if to protect him from a rabid animal, shooting me a fiery gaze that said, “Keep your kid away from us.”
I left the pool that day feeling stunned, shaken, and heartbroken, hoping it was just an off day for us. Unfortunately, it was only the beginning.
For weeks, this incident repeated in various scenarios—at playgrounds, in the commissary, at church, and at playdates. His big brother wore overlapping blue and purple rings of baby teeth marks on his back and arms. It was a scary, heart-wrenching, draining experience for our family—physically and emotionally.
It all came to a head at a Wednesday night Bible study we’d joined shortly after we arrived. I was standing in the kitchen, talking to one of the ladies in an attempt to get to know her better, when I spotted our children—my L and her daughter—playing together in the yard through the window. I watched in horror as he sank his teeth into her arm to get the toy he wanted to play with.
What was happening to my sweet baby?
What was I doing wrong?
I felt so ashamed and helpless. I was doing my best to step out of my comfort zone to make friends and build a community of support for our family at our new duty station, but I wanted to retreat and withdraw into my shell.
If your little one begins to exhibit behavioral changes, like biting, after a PCS, know you are not alone. There are ways to help your child (and yourself!) cope with the transition.
Seek professional support.
As soon as I could get an appointment, I took L to his pediatrician to be evaluated.
After a thorough examination, his pediatrician assured us it was a just a phase, the perfect storm of his age and the major changes that had taken place in our overseas PCS.
I learned young children tend to bite when they are feeling frustrated, anxious, or scared and they do not know how to communicate these overwhelming stressful emotions. It was a relief to understand the root of the behavioral changes he’d been exhibiting and realize I could help him.
Control your emotions.
My first reaction to my son biting another child was to feel embarrassed, panicked, and upset. While these are normal responses, it is best to not act on them. Take a deep breath and gain control of your emotions to firmly let your child know biting is not okay. Say something like “biting hurts our friends.”
Continue the conversation by calmly turning your attention to the injured child. Genuine care and concern models empathy and shows your child how his or her friend has been affected by the incident. Encourage your child to notice how his or her friend is sad and scared.
Validate your child’s feelings.
Children long to be understood. When your child bites, acknowledge the emotions he or she may be dealing with. Let them know you see they are angry, sad, stressed, or afraid.
Encourage healthy communication.
Show your child how to verbally express what they are feeling. Encourage him or her to use words instead of hurting others to draw attention to what they want or need.
Give your child plenty of one-on-one time.
Another reason children bite is to get attention. It became obvious to me L needed more one-on-one time when I considered how little of it he had been getting in the midst of our PCS. To avoid potential biting situations, be sure to spend extra quality time with your child when you are moving to let them know they are safe and loved.
Over time and with lots of love and patience, L returned from his journey to where the wild things are. Now, he is a healthy, thriving, kind, loving 3-year-old boy. Just yesterday, a little girl dropped a toy as we passed her on the sidewalk. Without hesitating, L let go of my hand to pick it up for her… and my heart nearly burst.
Have your children exhibited any upsetting behavioral changes after a PCS? How did you cope?