Wednesday, October 31, 2012

smacking and positive discipline

No, the smacking doesn't refer to how I choose to punish my child.  Rather, it is how my child has been treating me!  I posted on Facebook awhile ago, asking other parents how they have dealt with toddlers who hit them - seemingly in fun or silliness, not just out of frustration or anger.

A lot of what I found online while I was looking at how to deal with this problem had to do with children who were lashing out in rage.  They are just mad because they can't communicate, the various parenting experts explained.  Help give them words to put on their feelings.

But I didn't really think that was what was happening with Vicki Jo.  She wasn't angry and hitting me.  She was just getting worked up and rowdy and silly and crazy and smacking to see what happened.  Testing boundaries.  It was as if someone along the way told her it was really cute and funny (wasn't me!).  She is actually quite skilled at using her words to communicate what she needs, and doesn't often get frustrated because she can't tell me what she is thinking.  

Jeff and I wanted to get a consistent, non-violent approach to this hitting thing together.

[For the record, I was spanked occasionally as a child, and I don't think it made me violent or hate my mother.  In fact, I remember doing really, really awful things once in awhile (I recall lifting and dragging my cat around by the collar).  However, I do think that 19 months old is way too young to consider that kind of punishment.  It's kind of like with our dog.  If we can't catch her in the immediate moment that she does something inappropriate, it's not even worth considering punishing her.  She can't make the connection between her action and the punishment.  I feel like Vicki is still sort of in that mental place.  Plus, it's not like I'm a fan of corporal punishment.  I'd rather never have to do it!  I'm not just like waiting until she gets old enough to spank her.]

Anyway, I finally found a good, straightforward approach at the phenomenal website  Dr. Laura explains that even though Vicki Jo seems happy and laughs while hitting, she is doing that to release the tension pent up behind her big feelings.  What to do?  Tell her that you know she is having a big feeling!  It's okay.  But we don't hit.

I tried this a few times and felt like Vicki was sort of ignoring me.  So I added another dimension.  When she would hit me, I would pick her up and hold her tightly (not so tight as to hurt, just to show that I needed her attention).  I would say simply, "We don't hit.  I know you are so excited right now.  But you can't hit me."  And then I would hold her awhile longer.  She would usually struggle and then cry when she realized I was serious.  When her tears subsided, we would go off and do something fun together like dance or play under the faucet.  

It felt a little bit counterintuitive or petty to feel like I needed to make my daughter cry to reinforce my point about not hitting, but after awhile I realized that that was how she was unlocking the tension behind whatever feeling was bringing about the hitting.  And holding her close while she cried didn't feel bad.  It felt like it brought us nearer to one another.

Within a week or two, the hitting stopped.  As usual, hard to know if the phase just ended or the technique worked, but either way, it's a keeper.  


mama foosa said...

Only a few times now, Liam has become so consumed with his little monster emotion that he's lashed out at us or bitten. like Vicki Jo, he's not angry, there's just too much for his little body to handle and he doesn't know where to let it go. We always do the same thing as you. Hitting teaches nothing. Empathy is being the bigger parent.

Emily said...

Yep, and I was struggling because I wasn't identifying her emotion as "upset." More just like "wild!" Her great-grandma, who raised two boys, says Vicki is rowdier than any little boy she's met!