When I heard Anna scream and cry "Holly bit me!", I came immediately. I started with a sharp "Holly!" but then I stopped myself.
I knew I needed to handle this without lecturing Holly. She already knew that biting was not an acceptable form of self-expression at our house. And since Anna was crying, I needed to give her my immediate attention and talk to Holly when I was calmer.
I asked Holly to wait for me in the kitchen. This was not a time-out. I simply needed Holly to be away from me and Anna so that I could console and comfort Anna without distraction. Anna cried for a few minutes and then said, "I want to go to the table and colour."
I turned my attention to Holly. I still didn't know what I was going to say to her. And inside my head my mind's computer was playing: I can't BELIEVE she did that. Why would she bite her sister?! What is wrong with HER? What is wrong with ME? MY KIDS DON'T ACT LIKE THIS!
At a loss for words, the minutes ticked by. Eventually Holly said, "Mom, I want to colour too." I smiled and nodded. She took a few steps toward the table then turned back to me with the saddest face ever.
"Do you want to colour?" I asked.
"Yes," and now her tears came flowing, "but I don't know if I can sit beside Anna."
"Are you afraid that Anna won't want to sit with you because you bit her?"
I gathered her all into my arms and held her while she cried and when she settled down I looked into her eyes and said, "Holly, I love you. Even when you make a mistake, I love you. I think Anna still loves you even though you bit her. Do you want me to ask her if you can sit at the table with her?"
Anna made room for Holly and in a few minutes they were sharing markers and telling stories and laughing at each other's pictures. The incident was over.
Later at bedtime I made time to be alone with Holly and I said "Do you remember that I asked you wait in the kitchen this morning after you bit Anna? I wasn't trying to punish you, Holly. I wanted to take care of Anna and I wanted to think before I talked to you. I didn't want to yell at you and I needed time to think first and not be angry."
And she said, "I know."
I'm really proud of how I handled myself. And I'm really proud of Holly for calming down and reconnecting with me and with Anna. And I'm really proud of Anna for forgiving Holly almost instantly.
Here's what Naomi Aldort says in her book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves:
It takes time and practice to master such awareness. After all, we have grown in a culture where negating is automatic, a culture that taught us to identify with the automatic words of our minds. We negate so unthinkingly that it does not even represent what we really think or feel; we are not being authentic. Yet, it won't help you if you start judging yourself for having such human thoughts. You are raising you too; be kind to yourself. Start by making a simple agreement with yourself: When upset, do not say the first words that come to your mind; those are bound to negate and hurt someone.Yes, I am raising myself. And I think I'm going to turn out just fine.