Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #3
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?
My 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!
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"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #3"
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