Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #3

September 21st, 2010 by Dionna | 39 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Today’s post is our second gentle parenting QUESTION (aka “suggestions”) post – please read to the end and give this mama some feedback on how you handle gentle discipline with more than one young child.

Today I am glad to present a guest post by Betsy. Betsy is a puddle-stomping, maple-syrup slurping, baby-toe kissing, cloth diaper washing, heirloom pumpkin-growing, red-wine making, tandem-nursing, hockey-playing fool. You can normally find her at Honest 2 Betsy. Here is her gentle parenting question:


I think we can all agree that hitting babies is wrong. Right?

Right! Babies need as much love, empathy, and affection as they can get, and never ever the kind of awful indifference or rage that might compel a person to strike a baby. A baby! How could anybody bring themselves to do violence to such a defenseless and innocent little body? It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?

What would you do if somebody did the unthinkable? What would you do if someone hit your baby?

Would you get angry? Would you shout for help? Would you strike back? Would you, like an enraged moose-cow, trample whatever stood between you and this assailant to take him swiftly down?

What if the person who hit your baby was also your baby?

two babies in cloth diapersMy son was just seventeen-months-old when he became a big brother. He wore diapers. He toddled. He nursed a few times every day. He flushed everything down the toilet that he would fit and lots of things that wouldn’t. He couldn’t say more than a handful of intelligible words but no matter, he mostly just used one – Mama.

My son is a laid back little dude. He always has been. He was what you’d call an easy baby — the type who would rarely cry and who was quickly soothed with a gentle word or a touch when he did. He was ridiculously easy to put down to sleep and he’d stay asleep till he woke giggling after the
recommended amount for babies his age. He’s also always been able to entertain himself beautifully. While I tended to his older sister he would, say, happily roll around in a sunbeam. Like I said, easy.

We didn’t expect the transition from baby to big brother to be easy. But for the most part, he took it in stride, often thrilling us with sincere and lavish affection for his baby sister. The first time he hit her, though, we were flabbergasted. We’d heard from other parents, specifically parents with toddler boy siblings, that hitting is a common challenge. But each and every time it would shock and surprise me. Who hits a baby? And even though the aggressor was also a baby, it was hard to remain calm, consistent, and gentle — the emotions that rip through you when someone slaps your newborn! Arrrrggggblllgggh!

We did some research and solicited advice from different quarters and decided to deal with it by not making a huge deal out of it. We would pay attention to the howling victim, instead of punishing the little aggressor.

Observing him, we noticed he would hit or bite for one of several reasons:

  • He’d hit to initiate social contact: He just really didn’t appear able to come up with a better playground ice breaker than shoving little people he thought look interesting or bonking them on the head with a toy.
  • He’d hit and/or bite to let us know his needs weren’t being met: He’s the type of kid who could go on happily for long stretches of time with very little “maintenance.” For this reason, it is important to anticipate his needs. When he gets too tired or too hungry he is likely to let us know not by getting progressively a little whinier and a little crankier, but by, literally, coming up behind us and biting us on the ass. He’d go from seemingly calm and happy to, on a dime, hurling toys and hitting and biting his parents and sisters. Our four-year dubbed this state of his “bonky bongers.” It’s important to make sure our little guy’s needs are met before he goes bonky bongers.
  • He’d hit because he wanted to find out what would happen: We think this went something along the lines of, “I enjoy hitting things. Perhaps you will enjoy being hit as much as I enjoy hitting! What an interesting sound you are making! Do you make a variety of interesting sounds when hit or just that one very shrill sound?”

For the most part, our strategy of never letting our guard down, and never responding to his aggression with a big, fascinating reaction worked. It is quite easy and natural to focus your attention on a wailing baby who has just been slapped or pushed over, instead of on the baby who just assaulted her.

My son has just turned two and his language skills are blossoming. I’ve been noticing a decline in bonky- bongerism which I’ve attributed to him being better able to express himself verbally. Also, my patience and hard work paid off the day he walked up to a set of twin boys at the playground and said, “Hello,” by means of introduction, just like I’ve been instructing him to do, again and again, instead of pushing them down into the sand. Oh, how proud I was!

I guess I spent a little too much time congratulating myself on this small victory, though, and I let my guard down. When I did, something TERRIFYING happened.

We were at the zoo. We were chilling out with some ice cream on a grassy little hill. My wee baby was sitting up in a patch of clover happily clapping her hands together (her new trick!). My four year old was trying to convince me to ride the zoo train before heading home for overdue naps. And my two year old was re-arranging some rocks around the base of a pine tree.

I got up to pack up our things and was fussing with the Ergo, adjusting straps, when my wee baby sitting on the grass suddenly began wailing hard. My son had lobbed a melon-sized rock at her, missing her melon-sized head by inches! The rock had landed on her hand. Her fingernail was smashed and bleeding underneath the nail.

I think I yelled at him. I don’t remember. I was horrified. The baby was inconsolable and I was trying to latch her onto my breast. I was sitting on the grass, holding her, when I felt him strike me from behind in the back of the head with another, bigger rock. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

I jumped up, I spun around, and I assumed a flight or fight stance. I know I shouted at him then, something like, “YOU MAY NOT BLUDGEON MOMMY! YOU MAY NOT THROW ROCKS AT YOUR BABY SISTER!” I think I probably swore. I remember setting the baby down, even though she was still crying quite hard, and hurling my son into the jogging stroller with adrenal-fueled super-mama-strength. I buckled him in furiously. He looked terrified.

Then I crumpled on the grass and cried with my baby. It was my lowest moment in parenting EVER. My stomach was woozy from a nearly instant concussion and two gigantic bumps had formed at the back of my head. I tried to pull myself together as my four year old began whining about the zoo train.

“But, Mommy! You saaaaaaid maybeeeeeeee. You said, Mommy, and I really waaaaaant to ride the traaaaaaaain and…”

I told her that everything was okay, that mommy was going to be fine, but that I had to focus on ME now. Honestly, though, I wasn’t so sure.

When I thought to look around at all the people (it was moderately crowded) there were a whole lot of averted eyes going on.

My son didn’t make another peep until I’d gotten us all settled down and back to our van about half an hour later. As I lifted him out of the stroller and carried him into his car seat, he began kicking and slapping me and crying.

“Bad, Mommy! Bad, Mommy! Bad, Mommy!” he sobbed. That kid is definitely NOT accustomed to the wrath of Mommy. But that day, he felt it. He spent that evening at my heels pleading for my affection, which I gave him. He nursed a lot.

I’ve been over this terrifying incident many times in my mind. It makes me sick to think what would have happened if he lobbed that boulder a couple inches to the left.

It’s easy to see the all the things I did wrong – skipping a nap for an over-stimulating outing, turning my back on my kids, and then totally losing my cool. But I can’t conceive of any other response to being bludgeoned while comforting my nearly-bludgeoned baby.

Not getting angry would be positively creepy, wouldn’t it?

And that makes me wonder about all those times I haven’t lost my temper with him for pushing his little sister down so her poor little head went thunk on the hardwood, or for biting his big sister so hard he drew blood, or for kicking me in the tummy while I’m changing his diaper, or for shoving other kids on the playground, or for hurling toys at his daddy, etc. etc. etc.

Should have I been punishing my one-year old all this time instead of gently admonishing him not to hit?

Should my son have felt the wrath of mommy long before things got so Old Testament?

I believe in gentle parenting and in respectful parenting. I don’t think I’m raising a homicidal maniac. I’m sure he’ll grow out of this.


How do you teach a toddler not to hit?

When is it appropriate to get mad? Never? Always? Sometimes?

I welcome your gentle parenting suggestions.

There are two resources that have been the most helpful to me in my own gentle parenting journey. First, reading about others’ experiences: real-life examples of challenges met with respect and compassion can be both educational and inspirational. Second, when I face a challenge of my own, I have always been able to turn to my local AP group for a fresh perspective and creative ideas.

I’d like to provide a resource like that here at Code Name: Mama, so I’ve introduced a series that will feature your stories and questions. In particular, I’d love to feature stories that build on consensual living principles or the techniques and ideas discussed in books like Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids; Playful Parenting; Unconditional Parenting; and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

I am not looking for stories about parenting techniques such as time-outs, negative consequences, coercion, or punishment.

If you have a gentle parenting success story or a question on how to gently handle a challenging situation with your toddler or preschooler, please read the contributor guidelines and contact me. Let’s not go through this journey alone!

39 Responses to:
"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #3"

  1. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    I have a toddler of 20 months, and I also struggle with the same problem. She sometimes thinks it is funny to hit out at us. I do not want to hit back, and try to be stern and tell her that it’s not acceptable. And then redirects her attention.
    It sometimes feel not enough…

    The boulder hitting incident – it sounds like you handled it the best you could! I should maybe just go back and relive the incident with him. Make it into a story and think of other ways to handle it – with his input. Maybe that will help?

    • Yeah, I did try and talk it out best as I could after. Because even though he’s not verbal enough for a two-way conversation, I know he understands what I tell him.

  2. Lauren B.

    I have no idea how to teach a toddler not to hit, as my baby is at that happy hands-clapping stage.

    As for the getting angry, I think it’s not just ok sometimes, I think it’s necessary and important. How you handle being angry matters, but why should you stifle it? It is an authentic feeling you’re having! That doesn’t mean you have to “act out” ;), but this whole gentle parenting thing is often about validating our children’s emotions – why shouldn’t OUR feelings as parents be important too?

    Hmm, maybe that is the trick to teaching a toddler not to hit. When you get angry, maybe if you tell him, “I am feeling very angry right now”, then model appropriate behavior, that’s what he’ll start doing. It’s all very well and good to say “don’t hit when you’re angry”, but maybe he feels like he’s the only one with that rule. Maybe a little part of his toddler brain thinks, “Oh, great. They don’t know what it’s like to feel angry, easy for them to say!” He would have to know when other people are angry to see that they handle it without hitting.

    But, I’m just speculating here, not having a toddler myself. I hope that this is the approach I will be able to take when the time comes, though, partly for my child’s benefit, and partly for my own. It makes me feel better when I can name my feelings and communicate them to others. While my daughter needs to see that happening, both with her and other people, *I* need it to stay sane. I don’t think having honest emotions, positive OR negative, has to conflict with gentle parenting.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I have to agree with Lauren – there’s no reason we can’t show our kids that we experience anger, sadness, frustration, impatience, annoyance – it’s all in the way we handle it.
      Also – we can’t present ourselves as perfect creatures. If your child NEVER sees you mess up and need to apologize, how will HE learn? And what incredible pressure it would be on him to have to live up to your level of “perfection” all the time?!
      I don’t think there was a thing wrong with how you handled it. You could explain that sometimes when we get hurt or very angry, we lose our tempers – you’re sorry (if you are!) that you yelled, and you will try to remember how scary that can be, but you were very hurt/angry that he was throwing rocks/hitting you in the head.
      (Or something, not that exact script)

    • Cassie

      I have to agree here as well. I tend to go into silent mode when I am feeling very frustrated or am hungry because I can just feel my blood boiling which usually which lead to yelling and at it’s worst being rough with DD, like just yanking her shirt over her head instead of properly easing it over her head.

      Well DD really hates when I go into silent mode so I started to explain to her that I be quiet because I will say or do something not nice so I’m quiet to collect my patience and control.

      The other day, DD, whose 3, was getting really frustrated putting on her shoes and started throwing a tantrum. I asked her if she wanted my help. For the first time ever, but it’s happened since that incident, she said to me, “I’m not going to talk to you because I will be mean. Don’t talk to me.” Instead of lashing out, she was doing what I do when it gets to be too much for me.

      I think we all have parenting moments that were not proud of, but we can apologize and find a way to do it better next time. Sometimes we are doing the right thing, but we just need a way to help our LO’s understand it too.

      • That brought tears to my eyes, it was so fantastic! I’m a grandmother now, but I still remember how difficult it was to deal with little people and their problems. You feel like you never get it right! If you only had a bit more time to deal with the situation, you could probably think of a better way to handle it, but life just rushes on and you are always “making it up as you go” like Indiana Jones. The moms on this forum obviously care deeply about raising their tots, and I’m sure ALL these kids will grow up to be sane and responsible adults. Kudos!!!

    • TinkAe

      “Maybe a little part of his toddler brain thinks, “Oh, great. They don’t know what it’s like to feel angry, easy for them to say!” He would have to know when other people are angry to see that they handle it without hitting.”

      Well said, Lauren!

  3. mamapoekie   mamapoekie

    I spent this whole reading experience with a strange mixture of chuckles and knot in the stomach… It is hard to stay gentle when there is some serious hurting going on, no matter who’s getting hurt. I know this because I have had several near nose breaks, all caused by the same person.
    My reaction is to cry and say she hurt me and hand her over to her daddy, tell her that I can’t give her attention if I have to treat myself. She generally goes calm rather quickly.
    But it is hard, and I often have to tell my husband to pick her up or I might hurt HER. She’s 28 months old

  4. Tami

    I personally think its ok to show anger and you had every right to feel angry in this situation. Anger is a real emotion and its not realistic to think that your child will go through their entire life without ever feeling anger. What is important is that we teach our children that it is ok to feel angry but it s not ok to display anger in certain negative ways; hitting, hurting, screaming etc. By showing anger and demonstrating anger in a controlled manner we will show our children how to be angry in a safe and socially acceptable way. By telling our children that their behaviour (never them) is making us feel angry and that makes mummy feel twisted up/ knotted/wriggly inside helps our children to learn and name their own emotions.
    I think you dealt with the situation very well; you may be a gentle parent but you are also human and set to react by instinct. Your son behaved in a way that hurt you and your baby but you did not hurt him in return. I can picture an exact same situation where many parents would have belted him before throwing him in the stroller and taking him directly home. You didn’t do that and it sounds like both of you have learnt from this experience.

    • Okay, thanks! One of the things that horrifies me so much about that day is how murderously angry I felt.

      The other thing though, is the safety issue. He could have actually killed his baby sister with that boulder.

      Would he be less likely to lob a boulder at his sister if he was more afraid of the consequences? Would he be less likely to strike out like that if I was the type to promptly spank him?

      Also, I should be clear that the reason I didn’t go straight home is because I had a concussion. I had to make sure it was safe to get behind the wheel!

      • Michelle @ The Parent Vortex   TheParentVortex

        This is such a tough situation – we want to be gentle with our kids but some behaviours are so serious that a gentle response doesn’t seem appropriate.

        We went through a phase where my 3yo was biting me. I was really distressed and asked my friends if they had any advice, and another mama said her daughter was biting as a toddler and wouldn’t stop, to the point where she was keeping her home from playgroups, etc, because she couldn’t be sure her daughter wouldn’t bite another kid. Eventually they were somewhere and her daughter bit another adult, who VERY STERNLY told her, “NO BITING! YOU MUST NEVER BITE ANYONE!” While the child wasn’t spanked, being disciplined so firmly by another adult really got the message home and my friend said her daughter never bit anyone again.

        Being gentle and empathetic is important, and avoiding situations where problem behaviour might happen is important too, but if/when it does happen, it’s important to make sure kids understand the seriousness of what they’ve done. I think your response to the rock incident was totally appropriate.

        I think it’s kinda like medicine – empathy and playfulness is like eating a diet of healthy food, which prevents illness/problem behaviours. But when illness/problem behaviour comes up, sometimes more a more serious response is warranted, like medicines/disciplinary consequences. Overusing medicines or consequences dilutes their effectiveness, but when they are really needed it’s good to have them in your toolbox.

      • Tami

        I know how horrifying our own emotions can be for ourselves but the point is that you didn’t act on them. You took control of your emotions and showed your son that you were angry in a safe manner. My son and I were at the pool yesterday and he wanted to jump in off the side. I agreed and helped him get out, whilst I stayed in the pool. He instantly started to run along the side of the pool. Although I called after him he of course didn’t stop. He was told off by the lifeguard, in a very child friendly manner, but the next time he got out to jump in I made it very clear to him that he was not to run as it was not safe and if he did we would go straight home. He did not run again and we enjoyed a great swimming trip.
        As far as you using spanking as a punishment measure… he would probably hit more. Children who see and experience hitting as a means of regular punishment are more likely to act that behaviour out and hit other people they come into contact with. Some pro-spanking people will say they hit their child out of love but that doesn’t make sense. If your child connects love with hitting the people he loves will end up getting hit!
        Totally understand about you not going immediately. I hope your head hurts less today and the world has stopped spinning!

      • Bree   breebop

        I don’t think you could have prevented the rock-throwing by instilling a fear of the consequences. At that age, it’s very unlikely he thought through what he was doing. The time from thought to execution is so fast at two and three. The best you can do is to try to be aware and catch them before they do it, but you make clear in your story, no one can be on guard all the time. I think all you can do is your best, and he will grow out of it in time (and baby sis will soon be big enough to dodge!).

        When my son was around two I remember he went through a phase of pushing over other babies. It horrified me, and I think I overreacted at the time because I was so shocked. He’s been good with his baby sister most of the time, but every now and then he pulls on her just a little too hard or hugs her too fiercely. I think he knows now that he’s not supposed to do that, but I still think he’s too young to really understand that he has the power to really hurt her when he’s very rough. He’s 3.5 now, and very verbal.

        I’m reading my son Little House on the Prairie now, and at the close of every near-death escape, Pa has this to say, “All’s well that ends well.” I think I will take it as my mantra. Sometimes bad things just happen, no matter how much you try to prevent them. And if it all comes out all right in the end, that’s all you can hope for.

  5. I, too, look forward to responses to this post. My middle son (the Imp) was also similar in age when his baby brother was born. He hits, a lot, but not the baby. Not yet, anyway. He used to.. sort of pat the baby harder than I’d like, but it wasn’t.. violent? mean? I don’t know. The Imp will be two next Monday and we struggle with his desire to hit his older brother and throw things. I do worry that he’ll hit the baby when he throws things – mostly I avoid this by keeping the baby out of the same area. Not sure how that will work when the babe is older, though.

    I’ve found that the throwing starts when he’s tired. Or bored.

  6. It helps to know it’s somewhat normal! It’s hard not wonder, as a mommy, if it’s because of something you’re doing wrong and not just a part of human learning and development.

    • mamapoekie   mamapoekie

      I always say that the fact that you are wondering about it, that you are parenting consciously, shows that you are doing a good job. Parenting is as much a learning experience as anything else; none of us have THE ANSWERS

  7. shannon

    thank you so much for this post. i had a most awful parenting moment this weekend and i have been perplexed about it since. i was not raised gently…i was smacked, spanked, yelled at and emotionally manipulated by parents who meant well. unfortunately i have this in me somewhere and although many times i can be quite zen, other times there is a violence in me.
    i dont believe in hitting children, but i smacked my son’s bottom after a very difficult week, a hard day without my husband and finally…a big bite to the thigh. i do think it is important for kids to understand that people get angry. if you bite me i might get mad and so might your friend…he needs to know this. but how i am supposed to express that anger baffles me. unfortunately i sometimes react to quickly, but i just dont know what to do sometimes. i have another baby due in six weeks and am wondering how i will handle situations like the one you are talking about. what is the best way to respect your child and protect your other children?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Hugs, mama – it’s hard sometimes, especially for those of us who were raised in yelling/spanking households. Breaking patterns is so hard, but so healthy! When I yell at Kieran, I apologize. There’s nothing wrong with you telling your little one that you are sorry you spanked him, and that you know it wasn’t the right way to express your frustration.

      When Kieran went through a hitting phase, our biggest method of dealing with it was being proactive. I wrote a little about it in this post:

      • That’s an excellent point, Dionna. Teaching your kids that Mommy can forgive herself for over-reacting and being angry is a good lesson for them.

  8. Janine   AltHousewife

    I think that it is not only OK but crucial to react in a scary way to scary, dangerous situations. I’m pretty lax if I ask my dog to Shake and he doesn’t, but he KNOWS something unpleasant will go down if he ignores my Come command, because I NEED him to Come on a dime if there is a car coming, etc. Not to compare your kid to a dog, but it’s the same principle. When he’s older you can explain danger to him in words but if you have to go Mean Mommy on your toddler to keep everyone safe, I think that is instinct, and good, smart parenting.

  9. giggly   giggly_kerri

    I’m going through the hitting and biting phase with my 3 year old. I thought I had taught him other ways to deal with anger, he used to go off by himself for a few minutes (something I’ve done when angry or frustrated, I explain to him that I’m angry and need to step away). Lately though, any time he hears the word no, he will hit or bite and say “I said yes.” He seems to think that it will make me or my husband change our minds. We don’t give in and give him what he wants, but I don’t know what to do to get him to stop.

    • Bree   breebop

      I think that must be a three-year-old thing. I had counted myself lucky for missing the terrible twos. Two wasn’t a cakewalk, but it wasn’t as hard as I believed. Three, on the other hand, has been very challenging. I’ve been seeing much more defiance, more hitting, more tantrums, and lots of rage. I am reading Unconditional Parenting right now, and the line that is sticking with me is to “put your relationship first,” rather than focusing on the behaviour you want to fix. That’s not to say that hitting is OK, but I’m seeing better results since I stopped worrying about forcing correction in the moment and instead trying to stay calm and look for opportunities to reconnect with my son when he’s having bad moments. I also find it helps to pay more attention to my son before he has a meltdown. When we’ve had some good time playing together, he isn’t as needy and I think it makes it easier for him to control his temper.

      • Oh yes Bree! Everyone was all “terrible twos” and for us there were some challenges, but mostly due to the developing language and emotions, but THREE??? OMG! It’s more than terrible at times lol. Now that the language is there and the independence and realization that they can control what they do and don’t have to do what someone else says/suggests…oh boy.

        My son was a little over two when our second was born and he was so excited that he did sometimes slap the baby to get the baby’s attention, and that was easily redirected. But as the baby got older my now 3 yr old realized he could do things to make the baby upset, which was a new game I guess. And now that my baby is 1 and doing age appropriate things (throwing food on the floor, swatting, screeching, grabbing hair/things, etc.) my 3 yr old thinks it’s okay for him to do those things as well!

        There was a time when he did throw something big (car/truck/something) at the baby and I did yelp and yell and rush to the baby because he did hurt him, as I did the time the baby sat up for the first time and he linebacker-thrust him onto the hardwood floors, sigh. Sometimes the loud voice can make them stop quickly, especially if you’re across the room or otherwise engaged. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad/wrong if it’s a rare occasion, like everyone else said, a scary situation with real emotions about the dangers, why shouldn’t the child know? Next time the rock might hit the baby because mommy didn’t REALLY get that upset the first time I did it, so it can’t be all that bad right? Sorta thing. And definitely hitting for hitting will just make it worse.

        Like many other said, trying to be proactive and head it off by always having snacks, lovies, making it to the car or bed for nap times, etc. definitely helps. My son was very sensitive to the baby’s crying at first, and would scream bloody murder and throw things when the newborn started crying. it took me a few days to figure out it hurt his ears and he didn’t understand and it may have scared him. Once I taught him to cover his ears with hands or pillow or just run out of the room until I calmed the baby down, it ceased. When you’re not in those moments, lots of talking about how to act, how babies act/what they do, how we treat others, feelings of everyone, etc. definitely help. (We do lots of talking about “stuff” in the car, when I have his undivided attention.) and then reiterate those things if he has hurt his brother or something else that we don’t want to repeat. And yes at times, we’ve just had to do a removal/break/time out to keep the baby safe and me from going crazy. book, in your room until we all cool down, go. it obviously has to be tailored to meet each child’s needs and what works in the home… enjoyed this article…

  10. Casey   CBerbs

    My two sons are just over 20 months apart. Our experience mirrors yours to a certain degree. We expected jealousy and a really tough adjustment period when our second was born, and to our surprise our older son did really well with the transition. There were days, but all in all it went pretty well compared to how I thought things might go. Also mirroring some of your experiences was our son’s transition into hitting. For a few months, he seemed to be experimenting with it. He would come up and lightly tap me at a time when I knew he was upset or frustrated. I remember even smiling about it when I would tell friends. Then, one day he stopped experimenting and started hitting. He also started pushing his younger brother over.

    I found it to be very exhausting, frustrating, infuriating, and draining. I also felt like I was failing both of them. For my younger son, I wasn’t able to keep him safe and give him the protection he needed. For my older son, I knew that I had to be lacking in some way to lead him to express his feelings in this manner. (I know that these aren’t accurate perceptions of the situation now, but at the time I was sure this was the reason. Period. No other factors.)

    Looking back, I don’t necessarily think that anything that we (my husband and I) did at the time did much to solve the problem. I’m thinking that most of what we ended up trying served more as a coping mechanism and strategy for us until the phase passed.

    I was part of an online parenting group at the time, and they gave us a few suggestions. Here are a few that we found felt right for us:

    Find positive intent – When our older son was pushing the baby down, we would ask him, “Do you want to play with your brother?” or say “Instead of pushing him, you could give him a toy or show him the book you were looking at.”

    Give an alternative place to hit/push – In the instance that our older would hit or push, we would provide him with an appropriate alternative. I ended up buying one of those kids punching bags for him. I told him, if you feel like pushing something, push this. He could push it over, sit on it, hit it, etc.

    Help him name his feelings – We read lots and lots and LOTS of books about feelings. We talked about pictures and faces and what the characters seemed to be feeling. I also named my feelings a lot in conversation. Then, when something did happen, I asked him, “Are you feeling x or y?” Many times I thought he might be feeling frustrated or upset and he would tell me he was not. I’m not sure if that was because he still wasn’t able to or didn’t want to identify those feelings or if it was that I had misidentified them and assumed that is how he felt. Maybe he felt tired, excited, or hungry. That’s why I started asking and letting him dictate how they were identified.

    Like I said, none of this necessarily solved the problem, but it helped us deal with the incidents until the phase seemed to pass mostly on its own.

    I also think that your emotions are completely normal. Our feelings as parents are valid, and in my opinion sometimes even more difficult to understand. We have a dual role in the situation. Not only are we the “mama bear” of the child who was hurt or scared, we are also the person that the other child relies on for resolution of the situation. While we need to love, hug, and console the hurt or scared child, we also need to guide, respond to, and love the other child in a way that sometimes seems to feel contrary to what our instincts or hormones are telling us. It’s tough and it sucks in those moments.

    I think when dealing with an emotion like anger we need to remind ourselves of what we are trying to teach our children. Emotions are okay. Feelings are valid. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s how you handle your anger that makes the difference. Also, if you do something in frustration/anger it’s important to go to the other person once you’ve calmed down and talk about it.

    • Jess   sweetlikemaple

      This is an excellent response! I agree that it is a normal phase, and that instead of stopping the behavior, everything I do in response to hitting is find a way to cope with it. We’re just entering into this phase, I think, and I see my 2 year old patting the baby too hard once in a while. I’ve been trying the same things – finding other ways for him to interact with the baby, or finding other things to “pat” as he calls it. Or just asking him “Do you want mommy to play with you?” b/c sometimes it seems that he just needs some of my undivided attention. We’ve also started talking about feelings, and I think it’s helping a lot.

  11. Tami

    It just occurred to me that this could have been a display of sibling rivalry, especially as he is a bit older than most toddlers going through the hitting phase (I think you said he was 4)
    A great way to help resolve sibling rivalry is to teach you son to care for the baby. He could help with diaper changes, teach baby some signs (this is a great one which can give the older child a great sense of satisfaction when the younger child starts to sign back) or help with infant massage, a fabulous bonding time for baby and carer, be it parent or brother/sister.
    I still think you reacted correctly to the situation but I guess the wider issue is why he acted like this in the first place. I hope things get better soon!

    • He’s 24 months old. He was almost 17 months old when he became a big brother and started hitting his baby sister.

      I’ve never had to teach my oldest daughter (now 4 1/2) not to hit.


  12. Tami

    sorry- things keep coming to mind but I think this is the last comment I have!

    I remember when Rory was tiny, like 2 or 3 months and an older child, toddler aged, hit him pretty hard whilst I was getting my snow boots on at a rec centre. Rory was crying as he was in his car seat, which didn’t make him happy. The toddler was reprimanding hm for being naughty (ie crying). As she hit him she was saying ‘bad baby’! I was appalled at the time and felt quite odd about it all for the rest of the day. The mother of the toddler was very apologetic but my thoughts afterwards were ‘How sad that she thinks its bad to cry!’ Of course, she was probably just going through that phase.

    Right, thats me done!

  13. sam burnett

    wow,i am so in awe of the the beautiful,kind,supportive,PRACTICAL responses from everyone to this story.i honestly can’t offer anything more to it because you have all covered what i would have suggested!thank you so much because you have all given me things to use+reassured me,that i am mostly doing all i can in similar situations with my girls(they are 21 months apart)i too have problems with anger+my reactions some times but i always apologise+i am getting steadily better.we are getting better together.thanks again lovely ladies : )

  14. Melodie   bfmom

    I’m not quite sure what to say here but the end of your story made me think of a woman I knew whose son was very aggressive. he was 4 at the time and hurled a large metal train at a child’s head at my house once. I also saw him try to choke another child, and there was lots of kicking and hitting that was just par for the course. She was very calm with him and in a way I was impressed, but when he was very violent I was also slightly creeped out. She didn’t ask him to apologize or make amends in any way. She didn’t apologize to the hurt child or offended parent or offer anything to anyone that ever appeared productive in a way to help the situation. Maybe it was how she’d been told to parent by someone, but I never saw it actually work. I am not the type to offer advice to anyone, but I can tell YOU Betsy that your reaction was normal. I think parents need to give themselves permission to be angry. Kids need to see the spectrum of emotions and how they are dealt with. You removed the offender into a safe place where he could no longer hurt anyone. You were firm, you meant business, and he got the message.

  15. Amy   RenderMeMama

    Oh honey. My two are a tad farther apart. They are a few hours shy of exactly two years apart. My oldest has never been as aggressive as your son but he does play too rough with his little brother sometimes. Most times I can tell he is just trying to play but doesn’t really know how. Imagine having a small, immobile cry machine suddenly thrust into your world and being expected to know how to play with it. I have spent many hours teaching him how to be gentle with his brother and how to play age appropriate games with his brother and things have gone really well since. They absolutely adore each other now (1yr and 3yrs).

    I don’t think you really over reacted either mama. Bonking a child with a plastic toy and lobbing a huge rock at a baby’s head are two different situations and they deserve to be handled differently. You didn’t call him names or shame him from what you posted here. You just let him know that his behavior was unacceptable and put him in a safe place so you could tend to your youngest. You also gave him lots of love later on too.

  16. I have been exactly where you are. Seriously. Read through my blog and you’ll see. I even took my son to a pediatric behavioural specialist (whom all my AP friends had recommended) to see if there was something actually *wrong* with my boy because he could be so violent with other children. The guy was wonderful and, long story short, told me that punitive discipline and any sort of manipulative parenting was totally counterproductive in these cases. He told me to just repeat ad nauseam a simple phrase to my boy (he wasn’t specific about the words, just the general gist of the message). He said it may not change his behaviour right away, but that as he matured and gained impulse control those messages would be cemented in his brain. Meanwhile, I needed to be aware of his tendencies and basically shadow him. It was exhausting. But he is turning six next month and the issue is much more under control, nowhere near the nightmare it was when he was 2 – 3 years old. Oh, one recommendation is to catch Gordon Neufeld’s theories of Aggression and how to handle it (he claims all aggression stems from frustration, though the two events can be removed in time). I found it very very helpful in understanding my child, and finding empathy for him when, to be honest, it was often very hard to control my Mama Bear response. Big hugs to you; it’s a hard path to walk.

  17. I was exposed for a while to a group of self-termed attachment parenters and gentle discipline advocates, and reading this makes me see what a skewed view of the group as a whole they gave me. You all sound so sensible and considerate of other people as well as your children; their version of ‘gentle discipline’ was no discipline — their kid could be whacking somebody with a baseball bat and they would do and say nothing. I think the way you handled things with the more innocuous hitting was right, and I think the way you reacted to the rock-lobbing was completely understandable, and that it was right for him to see that you were angry and appalled. He didn’t know how bad it was to throw a rock at a baby’s head; now he does. Parenting. It’s freaking hard.

  18. Carolyn

    I have a 2.5 yr old girl and a 5 month old boy, I watch a 3 year old boy and a 1 yr old boy in my home. The 3 year old has a hitting problem. His momma doesn’t stop him, mid-swing, when she should. At a basic level you have to teach them what’s right and wrong and sometimes that takes more effort than just making them apologize and saying no- you have to gently but physically stop it from happening- prevent the arm from striking. I have seen him hit her, his baby brother, my daughter, etc. It’s not cool. He doesn’t always respond to distraction, gentle verbal instruction, etc- he has his jaw-clenched, teeth-grinding, winding up, raising his arm. I jokingly refer to him as the Ike Turner of our playgroup, but it’s not funny anymore as he’s now 35 lbs – almost 10 lbs bigger than my little girl and much bigger than the other 2 babies. He needs to learn that this is not the proper reaction to his frustration. He “taps” his little brother’s head like it’s a bongo drum sometimes. I wish his mother had taken the time to teach him this behavior is wrong and shouldn’t happen rather than let it happen and then make him apologize.

  19. Jennie

    I think it is important for our children to see that sometimes we too get overwhelmed. I am a single mother of a 23month old. She is generally a great child, but there are times she bites or pushes or is hurtful. She went through a biting phase while getting her molars, and would laugh at me when I sternly told her “no bite!”. I also have MS, and one night, while she was having a particularly hard time falling asleep, and my legs were not working well enough to walk in circles for hours with her on my shoulder she bit me HARD on my cheek. I yelled at her- I was so tired and frustrated it just came out. And though I felt terrible, it also felt cleansing. I quickly calmed down, and apologized. “I’m so sorry mummy yelled at you. She shouldn’t yell when she’s frustrated. But you hurt mummy really badly when you bit her. Can you try not to hurt mummy with biting and mummy will do better about not yelling.” She hasn’t bitten me since. Sometimes, they need to see that we are human, that we can apologize for misguided behaviors and that we too need to work on things. I find explaining WHY I got so upset helped. She needed to know that I was not mad at her as a person, but her action. Maybe explaining to him WHY you got so mad- just HOW dangerous it was. He might just understand.

  20. Candace

    I think that it isn’t “right” to yell or spank… but it is also a perfectly understandable reaction.

    I admit I’ve lost my temper and yelled (and for far less) but it was not at all effective.

    It sounds like you have a great set of tools and responses… and one incident just got away from you. It happens. I know it was scary but I don’t think if you spanked that this would not have happened… and I think the longterm results would be less desirable.

    I agree with those who have said it is a stage you manage…and you keep on with your consistent responses.

  21. Vanessa

    I am so thankful for this. My son is 2y8m, and has a new sibling on the way. I have trouble keeping my own temper down. I have standards for myself that I often (lately) fail to live up to. Gentle parenting is very important if we are to raise gentle people. But in the moments of motherhood (parenthood) that things get heated, it is hard (for me) to remember that. We go to the tools we know, and I was not raised in the manner I want to raise my children. Still, I often find myself reaching for those things I swore I would never resort to. I am a stay at home mom. My son and I are together nearly 24/7, with little or no break. We get angry at each other a lot. And I see that his reactions mirror mine. And I see that change is in order. I thank sites and posts such as this for the support you don’t know you give. To parents like me who teeter on the edge of knowing what is right, but not knowing how to accomplish the goals I have as a parent.

    • Olivia   OliviaStreaterL

      This is a really useful thread for me, as a mother of 2 boys aged 2 and 4 months.

      Recently I got into a cycle of wanting to respond gently, not doing so, and then beating myself up for responding more emotionally violent than I wanted to with my son.

      I think that a lot of us “gentle parenting” advocates often forget to apply the maxim of being gentle to ourselves. I am certainly one of them! We should model forgiving ourselves to our children, including when we fail to live up to the strict parenting standards we set ourselves.

      Possibly, part of what draws some of us to the theories and philosophies of gentle/attachment parenting is our own childhood experience.

      In my case, I had a very loving but often very shouty/screamy/angry mum. It is tremendously difficult for me to take the time to “catch the ball” of rage when I feel it, hold it, and not react to it, rather than instinctively shouting back. It sometimes feels like reacting (often explosively) is something that became hardwired into my body chemistry.

      I know I am doing pretty well and I am certainly a calmer mum now than I would have been say 10 years ago. But it is still often very hard. I quite often “fail”. “Good enough” parenting is a very hard lesson for me. I want so much to do some things differently with my own children and to break the cycle of anger.

      It’s all about trying to be perfect! As I just read on an ad – “Perfection – a perfect fairytale that always leaves you hating yourself.” And that includes (as I often forget) trying to be the perfect gentle parent…

      Secondly, I am still working out how I feel re this sibling rivalry business. As an only child myself, it is all a huge learning experience! But perhaps we need to work on accepting that it is normal? As parents, this is extremely painful for us.

      It does not have to manifest in hitting or other behaviours necessarily. And we can do a lot to nurture love and relationship between our siblings. Modelling love and responsiveness for example (I have noticed that my eldest copies me in making loving noises with his brother for example). But can we eradicate the feeling? Perhaps no.

      Perhaps, Betsy, your son felt in the moment a flash of murderous rage which does not make him a “bad” person or brother but very human. You also responded instinctively by the sound of it. We are programmed to do so as mothers of babies. The intense animal protectiveness that may not be “gentle” but is perhaps part of us. We are animals as well as thinking, reflective humans.

      I went on a fantastic parenting course ( and we talked on this course of matching our childs’ intensity to show empathy and that we are listening. This does not mean shouting when they shout. Sometimes it is not appropriate and we can defuse angry energy by giving back gentleness. But sometimes, matching the energy/intensity of communication is a way of “listening” (and therefore quite in tune with AP philosophy!). In a way, in responding with such intensity, maybe you did actually communicate to him that you heard him loud and clear (even if you did not plan to do this).

      Actually, I dread to think how I would have responded and I think I would have been like you, still having nightmares about What If?, for months after! In any case, please try and forgive yourself for your instinctive response to what must have been a terrifying moment!

      This is a great thread I stumbled on, I shall look forward to reading more!

  22. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    Did you see the movie “Babies”? There’s a little toddler who reacts to his younger sibling in just such a barely veiled violent (sometimes not veiled at all) way. I think it must be very triggering for siblings of a certain age to act out in that way (or maybe any age).

    It seems like you did the best you could, really. Taking him away from the rocks. Because, ouch! Scary for the baby, ouchie for you. And that your 4-year-old kept whining about the train… Seriously, I would have been screaming and swearing, too. Maybe it will help him to see the consequences of his actions — not a false, parent-imposed consequence, but the real one of hurting you and making everyone upset.

    And, of course, eventually — he’ll grow out of it, yes?

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