Thursday, August 4, 2011

Attachment Parenting 101: What do I do if my toddler hits me?

By. Alicia Bayer, Mankato Attachment Parenting Examiner
March 5, 2010
Give children tools to handle their emotions and teach them hitting isn't okay for anybody
Give children tools to handle their emotions and teach them hitting isn't okay for anybody.
Photo Xpress (Amy Myers)

An angry reader left a comment yesterday defending the Pearls and wrote about witnessing a toddler hitting her mother while the mother did nothing. I realize this commenter is not open to AP advice on how to deal with a situation like this, but it highlights a common assumption that the only two choices in parenting are hitting children or doing nothing.
"R" wrote:
"...I went out with a "friend" the other day and she went on and on about how she hates "spanking", and her little 2 year old just walks up to her and starts to hit her repeatedly for no reason and tells her how much she hates her mom.. etc. It was creepy and disgusting.. what should the mom's response have been? oh.. dear child.. hit me again cuz i love"
(The comment ends there.)

Obviously, the answer is not to just sit there and be pounded on by an angry toddler. There are gentle discipline methods that work as well as just hitting children, and they actually teach far more in the long run.
Here's how you can respond that respects you both.
First, tell her not to hit you. Say, "Ow, that hurts, don't hit me."
This teaches her two things:
1. It teaches her that it's not okay to hit people.
2. It sets an example for how she should act if someone hits her.
Second, stop her from hitting you. Often, just telling the child to stop will be all it takes. If not, you may be able to simply move out of reach. If she continues to hit you, you can hold her so that she's unable to.
Third, tell her what to do instead. Tell her, "Use your words." It may help to give her specific words to say, such as "I'm mad!". Give her other options, too. Ask if she wants to go "get her mad out" by throwing snowballs, talking about it or drawing an angry picture, for instance.
If necessary, go someplace private. All of the above steps take a few seconds. At this point, if your child is still obviously upset, excuse yourself and take her to someplace private.
This is important for several reasons.
1. It allows you to focus on her without a judgmental audience.
2. It is respectful of her.
3. It removes you both from distractions and gives her a chance to calm down.
Acknowledge her feelings. She does not have a right to hurt you, but she does have a right to her angry feelings. Voice what she's upset about, if you know. For instance, say, "You really wanted a cookie." Sometimes just knowing that someone understands is all it takes for a toddler to feel better and move on.
Get the root of the issue. At some point, be sure to also figure out if something else is going on. Toddlers have short fuses, but it's not typical for them to randomly start hitting their parents and shouting that they hate them. Is something stressful or scary going on in the child's life? Is the child witnessing violence somewhere else? Misbehavior like this is the sign of something wrong, and it's as important to find that out as it is to deal with the behavior itself.
What if you are not the parent being hit? If "R" wanted to be a true friend, she had options besides sitting quietly and passing judgment. Minnesota's Wakanheza Project teaches businesses and individuals how to intervene on behalf of parents and children in public. One suggestion might be to empathize with the mother and offer to wait there if she wanted to take the child someplace quiet for a few minutes to work things out.
Remember, our options as parents are not either punitive discipline or no discipline at all. To discipline means to teach, and violence is not necessary to teach people of any size.

I couldn't agree more.  When someone is a quarter of your size, there is NO EXCUSE for hitting them.  They can't fight back (and we all know what happens when children DO strike's usually a worse punishment than the original one), and hitting someone smaller and weaker makes you a bully.  Plain and simple.
Children deserve to be treated how WE want to be treated.  If you don't want someone to hit you for your mistakes, if you don't want someone in your face screaming at you when you don't make the right choices, if you don't want someone humiliating you in public, then DON'T DO IT TO YOUR CHILD.  They also have rights.  They also have feelings.  And they look to you for guidance, and as the person who is supposed to give them the basis for how they view the world.  If you teach them that violence is the answer, don't be surprised when your 7 yr. old gets suspended from school for hitting a classmate.  If you teach your child that overpowering someone smaller is appropriate, know that you're teaching them to bully.
All we want is for our children to listen to us, and to be respectful.  Is it so hard to imagine that in all the ways they mimic us, they might also mimic respect?  

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