I think my parents misrepresented adulthood. I grew up with the sense that adults knew things. Adults had answers. They not only understood the way the world worked, but they also possessed some level of power over the workings of that world. But as an adult myself, I find this not to be the case. With few exceptions, I see adults (including myself) just kind of flailing about, trying to make things work either by copying the ways we’ve seen it done before or by actively rejecting those lessons, not taking a conscious role in designing the world.
We adults are a bunch of amateurs, and that’s disappointing to me, especially when it comes to trying to figure out how to raise my kids and especially when there’s a particular childrearing issue that needs tackling. Like now.
My son’s three, and he’s begun hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, and head-butting. His sister is his primary target. When his sister was three, she went through the same stage, only she had no siblings so she had to beat up on the cats (our poor, patient cats). We tried many, many solutions (including ones that were not in line with our parenting philosophy) but never figured out an effective way to deal with her cat-injuring behaviors. Eventually I gave birth to her brother and she started beating up on him and we ended up seeing a child psychologist and her behavior improved and we had a blissful two years until her brother entered the same darned stage and we’re left scratching our heads about how to manage this yet again.
My spouse and I reject corporal punishment in raising our children, but spanking and yelling were both parts of our own childhoods, and I still have those scripts running through my head. When my son hits his sister, the first thing that comes to mind (after the panic that my toddler is hurting my daughter) frequently involves corporal punishment. I don’t want to spank so I yell (because I have some (admittedly illogical) sense that shock effect is important). And by the afternoon when he’s just injured his sister for the seventeenth time that day, I’ve worked myself into the thought that yelling isn’t enough so I need to YELL LOUDER because what else am I supposed to do?
And no, I don’t think that screaming at my three-year-old is a reasonable way to handle the situation. Not only does it leave me feeling like a big, awful bully, screaming at him doesn’t stop the behavior. It’s just what I come to when I feel utterly out of options.
So, I decided to try and give myself more options.
I re-skimmed several parenting books (Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Jane Nelsen, Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson) and figured out a new plan to try. It feels a little touchy-feely to me, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, so I’m giving it a go.
When my son hurts his sister (or is about to, if I can catch him beforehand), we do four things:
1) Hit pause. I stop whatever I’m doing and hold him in my lap to gently restrain him to stop the behavior in the moment.
2) Talk about his feelings and needs. What was he feeling when he hit/punched/slapped/scratched? What need was he trying to meet?
3) Talk to my daughter about her feelings and needs. What did she feel when her brother hit/punched/slapped/scratched?
4) Discuss alternatives. How can my son meet his needs in a way that doesn’t hurt his sister?
My goals with this intervention:
1) Connect with my son. I don’t want him to feel alone with his Really Big Feelings.
2) Develop awareness and compassion. In all three of us, I hope.
3) Teach that there are alternatives to hurtful behavior. A lesson I’d like to internalize more thoroughly myself.
By focussing on feelings and needs—both his own and his sister’s—I hope my son will get into the habit of self-compassion and empathy. I’m convinced that people only hurt others if they themselves are suffering. By helping my children learn to identify their feelings and needs, I hope they will gradually learn to do so without my help and that they will be less likely to hurt others (and themselves).
I’ve been doing this for one full day. Already my children have changed how they speak to each other about my son’s hurtful behavior. The hitting hasn’t stopped, but I try to remind myself to be patient. It’s only been one full day and this is a major shift in how I’ve been handling this particular issue.
Why am I blogging about it? I know there must be other parents out there who are flying by the seat of their pants with a parenting style that’s not the one they inherited from their parents, and I guess I thought reading about someone else’s fumbling attempts to raise compassionate children might resonate with somebody. And heck…maybe I can get some ideas.
Do you have/did you have a hitting kid? How did you deal with the hitting, and did it work?