Monday, 12 December 2011

When toddlers start hitting

It's a fear of most parents and it's something that you never expect to happen to your children but hitting, pushing and biting can be a common phase for many toddlers to go through.

For a week now Freddy has been pushing his friends and although the children (and their mums) have handled it well and reassured me that it is just a phase I really want to understand what if anything I can do to help my little boy overcome the urge to lash out.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with 'bad behaviour' but I started off by searching for gentle ways to discipline. I read books and articles, blogs and forums and then it hit me...... I was looking for ways to correct his behaviour instead of trying to understand why it was there in the first place.

Below I have tried to summarise where I am with my thinking on the subject in case it helps others in my position (I am not a child physiologist and these are just my thoughts):

Put things into context

Personally I believe that children are inherently good. They don't hurt others because they want to cause pain or anger and this is the single most important point to remember, even when you are prising your child's jaws apart to release the arm of a friend. However, children are learning machines and they need and want to learn everything including 'what will the reaction of this person be if I do this' etc.

How can we expect our children to want to experiment with cause and effect with language and jumping and dressing and painting but not emotions? Just remembering and reminding myself of this has helped me immensely.

What is the need that the child is expressing?

If a child hits it is because there is an underlying need that must be addressed. Usually this may be because the child is hungry, bored, tired or jealous. Therefore in order to address the resulting action the need must be satisfied. For example the child might be tired but we try to keep going through a party or play date or just 'so he will sleep more at night'. If this is the case we cannot expect him to behave rationally.

Another unfulfilled need might be love or attention. I have noticed that Freddy only pushes if I am holding Henry so could it be his way of saying 'I need my mama but Henry has her so if I do this she will come to me'?.

Consistency is key

It's true that children need boundaries in order to feel secure in themselves. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of rules but it does mean consistency. That is why a special birthday treat of chocolate for breakfast for a toddler will result in the same request for chocolate the following day. A toddler is only just learning what is and isn't acceptable so to expect an understanding of the concept of a 'special dispensation' of a rule is just unreasonable for both parties.

Be a role model

Many times I have watched as adults snatch toys from children's hands. Why is it ok for us to do it but not the child? I really think it's imperative to model the behaviour that we want our children to use.  I know how hard this can be but if you want the child to do something you must ask first to show respect. Also the way we interact with our partners is an opportunity to model the right behaviour.

Yesterday Farfar threw a coin that he had picked up at me for me to catch and then Freddy started throwing coins around. This time the copying was instant but if it had been 24 hours later would I have remembered that he was just copying Farfar?

Punishment doesn't work

Not only does punishment not work but it leaves the punisher feeling awful and the punished feeling shamed or degraded or angry etc.  There has to be a better way.

I am yet to venture fully into the world of discipline but I'm not a fan of putting a child in his own room and closing the door on him.  In Freddy's case I believe that he just hasn't yet developed empathy and so using punishment would be like telling a cat off for not barking.  

Emotional development is what causes people to feel good about themselves. This is called self-esteem. Healthy emotional development occurs when love is always there no matter what happens. A loved child feels secure and is able to show warm affection to others. If your child has a healthy sense of self, he will be able to roll with and adapt to life's ups and downs.

Social development refers to your child's ability to get along with other people. Your child will learn and develop socially by watching and imitating adults. Play is very important in his social development. This is how he learns to deal with the world around him. [source]

Don't force apologies

We shouldn't impose our needs onto our children. We may want our child to say sorry to the other child but what is the real value of the child doing so if it is not truly heartfelt other than to make us feel better ourselves?

So what am I going to do? I'm going to try to work on empathy development by making Freddy a doctor kit and see if we can role play a few situations.  I'm also going to try to spend more one on one time with him but most of all I am going to respect him and be a role model.  I'll let you know how it goes....

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