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Working Class Life - A 1950s Mum and discipline

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Mum in our backyard

Mum  with our Yorkshire terrier Tinker at the site of the first bite

Mum with our Yorkshire terrier Tinker at the site of the first bite

When Children Bite

My mum was one in a million, she was born in 1919 the eldest of ten children.

If you met my mum you could tell right away that she was used to being obeyed. In many ways my mum was no different from many of the mothers of that time but in some areas she had some novel ideas.

One of the areas where her approached differed from most was in the area of children biting.

My brother and I were brought up in a working class area of a large city.

Biting was not a big problem back then but whenever it did occur most parents dealt with it right away.

I can still remember two incidents where mum took matters into her own hands.

My mum treated the two incidents in different ways. Both of her approaches produced the same results. Both children never took a bite out of anyone again.

My brothers best friend bit him

The first incident concerns my brother and his best friend. They would be around seven at the time, and both boys were playing together nicely in our back yard.

Mum and I were inside the house when we heard a loud yell and my brother came running into the house crying. I can’t remember quite how it happened but somehow his friend had bitten my brother right on the end of his nose.

It was a funny place for someone to bite but there for all to see was a perfect ring of teeth marks on my brother's nose.

Of all the bite marks I have seen, and I have seen a few this is the only set of teeth marks on a nose that I have seen.

My brother was sobbing and telling mum all about what had happened. Meanwhile his friend took the opportunity to run off home.

Mum wiped up my brother’s tears and comforted him until he stopped crying.

Mum sent me to find my brother's friend and bring him back with me to face mum and the consequences of his actions.

Fetch the Toolbox

I quickly found my brother's friend and took him back to our house where mum was waiting to see him. Mum sent me inside to get my dad’s toolbox, and at this point the reason for this was unclear to all except my mum.

Mum rummaged through the toolbox and triumphantly pulled out a large pair of pliers. She looked my brother's friend right in the eyes and said to him “Do you see theses pliers?”

“Yes" he replied

“Well if I ever see or hear that you have bitten anyone again I am going to pull out every one of your teeth with them. Do you understand me?”

“Yes” my brother's friend replied. “Good I am glad we understand one another now off you go.”

It was not long before my brother’s friend's mum was knocking at our door. She demanded to know why her son had come home sobbing saying that my mum was going to take out all his teeth with pliers.

My mum showed my brother's friend's mum the lovely set of teeth marks on her son’s nose and told her how they got there.

My brother's friend by this time was hiding behind his mum looking shamefaced. My mum gave her all the gory details.

After his mum had heard what happened she took her son by the arm. She told him that if in the future she found out that he bitten someone she would personally take him to see my mum.

Then she would hold him while my mum took his teeth out with the pliers. .

How different things are today. This type of behaviour would bring social services and the police to your door. Case conferences held, psychological reports written and both children would be taken into care.

Both adults probably locked up and meanwhile the child would still have a biting problem.

When I bit another Child

The second incident concerns me. I was around seven years old and I was playing out in the street. I got into a bit of a fight with a boy who was around the same age as me.

During the tussle of slapping and hair pulling that goes on in these things I grabbed the boy’s arm and bit him.

The boy ran off and told his mum who standing on her doorstep talking to a neighbour at the time.

I ran back to near my house but I wasn’t quick enough. The boy’s mum, an Amazon of a woman, got hold of me by the shoulders. She started shouting at me and banging my shoulders against the wall which was behind me.

All the noise and commotion soon brought my mum to our front door where she soon took in what was happening.

My mum was only a slight woman barely over eight stone. The boy’s mum was a really tall well built woman and imposing looking.

The boy’s mum dwarfed my mum but my mum was not a woman that was easily intimidated.

My mum stood her ground and demanded that the boy's mum let go of me.

I was relieved mum was here now and I was safe. Well that’s what I thought, but little did I know that soon I would be wishing that the boy’s mum had sorted me out.

My mum listened to what the boy’s mum had to say then she called the boy over. She looked at his arm where the evidence of what I had done was plain for all to see.

“Right” said my mum,

“You get over here right now”

Reluctantly I edged towards my mum who grabbed me by the arm then she said to the boy

“you get over here too. “

The boy looked no more willing than I did to get close to my mum. But, like me he obeyed her and he came over to where my mum held me.

What happened next took us all by surprise. My mum held my arm tight with both her hands and said to the boy

“Right I want you to bite her as hard as she bit you.”

The poor boy did not look at all pleased by this turn of events. But the justice being meted out seemed to meet with the approval of his mum. The boy's mum at this point was urging him to do as my mum told him to.

The boy bit me and it wasn’t too bad. He didn’t bite that hard, so I was thinking that it was all over and it hadn't been too bad, but it was far from being over.

My mum inspected my arm and said that the boy had not bitten hard enough. She said the marks he made could barely be seen while the marks I had made on his arm could be seen even yards away.

The poor boy was told to repeat the bite but this time he was to bite as hard as he could. Again mum held my arm firmly so that I couldn’t pull it away.

The poor boy by now wishing the same as me that it was all over and done with, bit down on my arm this time will all his might.

He bit me so hard in fact that he left a part of one of his front teeth behind in my arm when he drew his mouth away. Even today 60 years on you can see the faint scar that his bite left behind in my arm.

I don’t think my mum expected him to bite so hard. Nor did she expect for there to be any blood but everyone retired feeling that justice had been done.

Like my brother's friend I never bit anyone again. Through this experience I learn to have empathy for the boy I bit. I also learned that my actions do have consequences which I will have to pay.


Both of these approaches had the desired affects. Neither I nor my brother's friend ever bit anyone one else as far as I know.

Neither of us had any long term problems resulting from this again this is as far as I know. My brother is still in touch with him and they are still friends.

Mum had done her best and in this case with children born in the forties her best was effective and was good enough.

Times have changed and the way we deal with the problem of children biting others is different.

I believe that my mum’s methods could not be used on today’s children.

If they were, I do not think that they would yield the same positive results.

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