Aug 18, 2013

My Son Is Biting Himself

Category: Children
Posted By: Sarah
Question: I am a mother of 2 boys aged 10 and 8, they have a fairly normal relationship with one another with the usual amount of sibling rivalry, but recently my 10 year old has become much more aggressive and delights in winding everyone up as much as possible. He used to be a very caring child and would rush to help others, but now he seems to take pleasure from others' misfortune and hurting people.

I recently had a discussion with him, trying to get him to understand how disruptive his behaviour is and he got quite upset and went quiet, then lifted his hands away from his face and smiled and said 'do you think the queen likes being a great grandmother?' I was quite bewildered at his change of subject and he didn't seem to have taken anything in. He didn't alter his behaviour and when I got cross with him he ran off to the other room and when he came back he told me he had been bitten by something. When I looked at his forearms I saw 2 huge bites that he had inflicted upon himself. I am really scared that he is not acting normally and that he will go on to develop a habit of self-harm. What can I do to help him?  We are a happy family unit with a loving father and mother and are normally very easy going but this behaviour has us all worried. My 8 year old is suffering as he is getting his homework disrupted by my eldest son’s behaviour and being annoyed all the time and it is upsetting all of us. I think my son is aware that it is his behaviour that is causing the disruption but doesn't know how to change. He has recently lost his Godmother to Motor Neurone Disease aged 50 and saw her decline over the last 3 years and I wondered if this may be something to do with it? Can you help?


Answer: Hi Sarah, Thank you for your question.  I’m really sorry that your family is struggling with your eldest son’s behaviour.  It does sound like he is struggling at the moment.  Some loss of empathy is fairly normal at the onset of puberty (I know it’s a little early yet, but it is a possible beginning), however, as you have tried to do, it would be hoped that this could be mediated by you talking and helping him think about the feelings of others.

I know that the sudden change of subject is very distressing when you have tried so hard to make contact with him.  However, I would think that this was just his signal that he really couldn’t cope with what you were trying to make him understand.  It is also possible that there was some message in the subject he talked about.  I don’t know exactly what your conversation entailed but his comment was about how someone else feels.  You could try following his lead in these situations, while keeping a look out for how to relate his subject to the lessons you were trying to impart.  It is also possible that his reference to the queen relates to the recent death of his own grandmother and the fact that she will not get a chance to be a great grandmother or be there to see him grow up.  This leads me to think that you might be right about him being disturbed by his grandmother’s death and the decline in her capacities over the past three years, he may need help in making sense of this in his mind.

I think that biting himself was probably another signs of his overload and possibly his frustration with not being able express himself.  It is also a sign of his aggressive impulses and possibly that he does not know how to express his anger and aggression, which could also be behind his apparent lack of empathy and pleasure in winding people up.

I think that you have two choices at this point.  It is possible that you would be able to help your son with his feelings yourself.  You would have to attempt to understand the underlying communication in his behaviour, his anger and aggressive feelings.  He would need help in understanding that it is perfectly normal to feel these feelings, to feel anger and jealousy and rage and perhaps confusion, towards both his living family members and also the loss of his grandmother.  He would also need help in finding a less destructive outlet for these feelings.

If you feel that you need some help in managing and understanding your son then you could go to a child psychotherapist for some help in understanding what is going on.   You could work with the professional to help understand your son.  One option would be for you and your husband to see the therapist rather than you son and use the therapists advice to come to help your son yourself.  This would have the advantage of keeping you in touch with your son and build the relationship between you.

Whatever you decide, I really wish you luck with managing the situation.

Very best wishes,




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