Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #7

October 29th, 2010 by Dionna | 22 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

Today’s post is a gentle parenting QUESTION (aka “suggestions”) post – please read to the end and give this mama some feedback on how you would discourage this behavior in a gentle way.


Eek! My 15-month-old baby has been slapping me in the face, and he thinks it’s hysterical!

He doesn’t do it in anger, he doesn’t do it after I tell him no about something else, he only does it when we are being playful or nursing.

I’ve been telling him “no hitting,” and then I take him off of my lap and put him on the floor, even if we are nursing.

He gets pretty upset, but it has not had an effect on the hitting – he just hits again the next time we’re playing.

I try not to react except by calmly saying “no hitting” and moving him away, because I don’t want a funny reaction to encourage him.

Any ideas?

Photo Credit: Squiggle


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!

22 Responses to:
"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #7"

  1. Olivia

    My suggestion would be to keep at what you are doing. Maybe someone else has a better idea, but when my daughter decided hair pulling was SO FUN we did the same thing. Over and over, we told her no, stopped the fun and put her down. It took a while, maybe close to a month, for the behavior to stop altogether.

  2. Nev   Nevrandil

    I have actually just read something which might help you:

    The power of ‘Don’t’

    Don’t run!

    Don’t jump in the puddle!

    Don’t bite!

    How many times have you heard these statements being yelled at children? Or indeed said them yourself? The word ‘don’t’ used to be one that I’d frequently speak to my kids until I got to understand a little more about the workings of the subconscious mind, and then I realised that kids don’t hear the word ‘don’t’ but they do hear what comes after it and will do just that! They are not doing it to intentionally aggravate you, it’s just that the subconscious mind does not understand the word ‘don’t’ , it is impossible to tell anyone not to do something and expect them to follow your instructions or at least not think about it. I’ll give you an example: If I said I’d give you £100 but only if you don’t think of elephants dressed in tutu’s walking around a circus ring, I know that I’m keeping my money, because right now your subconscious mind has gone off and conjured up that exact image.

    So whenever you say to a child Don’t do ‘x’ they’ll just hear the ‘x’. What needs changing is the language we use with children so that we are taking responsibility rather than expecting them to. So instead of ‘Don’t run’ say ‘stop’ or ‘walk’, or ‘stand still’ (not ‘stop running’ or ‘don’t run’), if you don’t want your child to jump in the puddle, take their hand and say ‘let’s walk over here’ and lead them to where you want to go –take their attention away from the puddle by diverting their attention. To begin with it really takes conscious effort to change the way you speak to your children and at first I would start a sentence saying ‘don’t’ then catch myself then re say what I wanted rather than what I didn’t want. Luckily because children don’t hear don’t they didn’t realise that mum was doing this. In time – about a month (because that’s how long it take your brain to rewire) you’ll be doing it without thinking and noticing all the other mums saying don’t and you’ll want to tell them ‘don’t say don’t’ too!

    (from ‘Born’… a shop in london.

    No other solution from me. All the Best. :)

  3. the grumbles   thegrumbles

    definitely tuning in for ideas on this one. our son is doing something similar, and i do the same thing and tell him no and put him down. he seems to get the point but it doesn’t stop him from doing it again later. maybe it’s just an age/memory thing?

  4. I agree with teh previous poster who talked about the problems with saying “Don’t …” I might try rewording it with something like “Gentle hands. I like gentle hands”. And show him what you mean by taking his hand and stroking your cheek softly or something like that.

    The other thing I do with my 2 year old is tell him WHY I don’t want him to do womthing. For example, I might say something like “Hitting hurts. I don’t like to be hit. I don’t like to be hurt. I don’t want to play when you hit me”

    Good luck!

    • My spelling and grammar are AWESOME today. I see I need more coffee before I type the word “the” or the word “something”. Hope you can decifer my typing mess! ;-f

    • Jennifer

      Yes, I agree with these suggestions! I really try to phrase things in the “positive”, i.e., “gentle with mommy”, “be sweet to mommy’s face”. Also, giving an option to the unwanted action sometimes works, i.e., “you can kiss mommy’s face”, “i like zerberts on my face”, “i love tickles instead please!”, or whatever you can accept in the playful mood.
      Sounds like the little one is just exploring what the boundaries are for interaction.

  5. Kristin

    I usually get better results when I tell my 18mo what I *do* want her to do, as previous commenters have suggested. I think when I just tell her what *not* to do, she has trouble switching because the only image in her mind is what she’s already doing and she doesn’t know how to generate an idea of what would be a better thing to do.

    When she is being too rough, I ask her to please be gentle, and I take my own hands and show her what I mean. Now that we’ve been doing this for a while, she knows what “gentle” means, so it’s much easier to get her to correct her behavior.

  6. SunRa   mamajedisunra

    My 17 mo does the same exact thing! He thinks it’s hilarious. I think it’s just the touching interaction and he is in a playful mood. When he starts swatting at my face while giggling like a maniac I make sure to divert to some other fun interactive activity which uses the hands just as much and generates lots of laughter. Sometimes it is “the itsy bitsy spider”, “pat a cake” or teaching him how to tickle behind the ears and around the neck. Other times I take his hands and spin him in giant circles or do a “ring around the rosie”. He just want to play with me and doesn’t know any better how or what to play with me.

  7. NancyRoxanne   Nancyroxanne

    Our toddler did the same–I would just tell her “nooooo!” and take her little hand and rub my face or her daddy’s face (whoever she had smacked) and say “you be nice baby, oh look at the nice baby” and this worked. She would be so sweet and initiate ‘being nice’ by coming up to us and rubbing our leg or hand or whatever. Lol . We just kept reinforcing it. Worked for us-Good Luck!

  8. Rachel

    my 18 month old has been doing the same thing for quite a while. I just turned it into a game of high 5, every time he smacks I catch his hand with mine. We do it for a minute or so and then he tires of it.

  9. Tami

    I like the phrase ‘Catch them in the act’ not of doing something negative but rather positive. So when he’s doing something nice, like stroking your face, say ‘That’s lovely! I like it when you are gentle.’ This positive reinforcement, rather than the negative reinforcement of using ‘don’t’ or ‘no’ will help to show him what you want him to do and what is acceptable. Generally giving attention for negative or undesired behaviour is not helpful so I would continue with the removal when behaviour is not desired but add this into your repertoire too!
    Good luck!

  10. Tami

    Teaching the sign for gentle (stroking the back of one hand with the other) can be really helpful in this and many other situations!

  11. Amy

    I completely agree with avoiding “don’t” and “no” but I’m not sure how to put that into practise with my 6 month old who is biting while nursing… I pull him off and say “No biting, be gentle” and don’t react otherwise except if it really hurts I’ll say “Ouch!” but he often smiles at me and then bites me again before I can get him away from my breast. Good thing he’s adorable. He doesn’t have any teeth yet but I’m worried for when he does. Any ideas? I’ve also tried pulling him in so he has to let go to breathe (though I had mixed feelings about it) but he just bites harder and then bawls so I stopped that.

    • Kara

      My 7 month old daugher is definately a biter! When she chomps down, I stay calm (don’t yell or pull back), slide my finger in her mouth to free myself, and cuddle her for a few minutes. This way she knows if she bites the nursing session will be over, but she is still being nurtured. If I think she hadn’t finished nursing or is still hungry, we continue nursing a few minutes later.

      Perhaps he is teething or it just feels soothing for his gums? If you think that’s the case, I would try pulling him off and offering something acceptable to chew on such as a teether or a rubber spoon.

  12. Kara

    My 2 and a half year old, Ashlyn, does something similar, but not during playtime. She’ll just walk up and hit me (or her 4 year old sister) and giggle. She isn’t doing it out of aggression or as a reaction to anything in particular.

    I’ve found that making a big deal out of it or trying to correct it just gives the action more power. If she hits me, I just tell her “that hurts Mommy” and that’s the end of it.

    It’s a more difficult situation when she does it to my older daughter because she reacts by yelling or hitting back. She gives the reaction my little one is looking for! My older daughter doesn’t understand that if she just ignores it, Ashlyn will stop hitting her.

    I definately agree with previous posters about showing him “gentle hands”, and modeling what is appropriate rather than bringing attention to the hitting.

  13. I will second the advice to reinforce the positive- gentle hands- but also look at what she is wanting here. CONTACT and PLAY.

    Look back at Dionna’s book club postings about Playful Parenting by William Cohen. This book is applicable to all ages- even toddlers- and their need for contact and play. Look at the interaction as an invitation to play and turn it into just that. Don’t worry that it will reinforce the hitting because you’ll be fulfilling her need for physical interaction and she won’t need to hit anymore.

  14. Tat

    What has worked really well for me is showing the kids what to do instead (in this case, stroke gently). They think it’s a new game and get into it straight away.

  15. my baby is fifteen months old, too and we’re in a similar boat ourselves!

    not sure i can offer something totally original – there have been so many great comments here – but here’s what we do:

    when he hits, i take his hands (gently) and just say “please use gentle hands” and/or “hitting hurts mommy” and i take his little hands and i stroke my face (or arm etc) with his hands in a gentle way and we turn it into play…
    he thinks it’s super funny when i “ooooh” and “aaaah” about how nice his gentle hands feel!

    and if it seems like he’s hitting out of frustration, sometimes i’ll get a pillow and show him what he *can* hit… and i’ll show him (in a playful way, which he thinks is funny) that it’s okay to hit a pillow… and i’ll tell him that it’s okay if he’s frustrated or upset and that we just need to find a good way to get those feelings out.

    lately he’s been screaming when he’s frustrated or upset – i try to turn that into play as well.
    i don’t want him not to feel the feelings, i want him to let it out and be there for him while he does but i just try to identify the feeling/reason and talk it through.
    sometimes when he screams i say “when i’m frustrated (or sad, mad) i ROOOOAR like a lion” and i do a lion roar, turning it into play again…
    it’s been helping turn those moments around!

    xoxo sara

  16. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    I would say, use this opportunity to start setting limits in a respectful way. Limits should usually be more like a “family” or “communal” rule than just a limit for your child, but hitting (even in jest) is a good example of one that fits this idea perfectly.

    When he hits you, say “We don’t hit. It hurts others, and it’s not funny.” If he tries to hit you again, take his hand and move it away from your face. Repeat the limit again. “We don’t hit others. It hurts, and it’s not funny.” Give him another activity that is acceptable behavior. With my daughter at that age, we learned high-fives. After I would state the limit a couple times, I would show her that it’s NOT ok to hit my face, but she can hit my hand to do a high-five.

    “Look, lets learn a game. We can hit hands. This is called a high-five!” (if he tries to hit again, you can replace your face with your hand and say “High-five! Awesome!” or something like that…

    If he just really wants to hit you in the face, or hit you anywhere other than where you redirected him to (hand for the high five), let him know that you just can’t cuddle if he can’t be respectful. Let him know there are other activities where he can use his hands to hit (a drum, a play piano, a ball…etc) and let him know that cuddling is not a time for using his hands like that.

    In this way, you’re not shaming him for being “bad”, or giving him a “desired” reaction by changing your behavior when you get hit (children at his age are all about cause and effect and even if the effect is a negative one, like mommy saying “OUCH!”, he will want to do it again and again to hear you say “OUCH!” without knowing that it is actually hurting you. Does that make sense?)

    Instead, use clear, consistent and respectful language to set limits for his behavior, you redirect him to a more appropriate use of his hands. Good luck!

    PS- I JUST wrote a blog post about Setting Limits if you want to check it out.

  17. Amy   InnateWholeness

    Definitely focus on what you do want your baby to do – they respond more quickly and with less stress for both when they know what *to do*. You can even visualize your child happily doing something as fun – like giving you “5”. I used to do that with my daughter when she’d slap and it switched the energy. She caught on quickly that we could smack our hands together and that was fun for both of us. Repetition is a large part of the process.

    When a child gets older you can share that “people are not for hitting” and redirect the energy, but a young one of this age can’t quite grasp that.

    As for biting while nursing, the less energy you give the response the better. If you pull the baby in towards the breast just for a moment the baby will have to open her mouth to breathe and will stop biting. Usually they’re bored or full when biting unless they have been given a response before and appreciate the reaction. It’s not manipulation, it’s just a baby’s first experience with cause and effect. Take away the reaction and she’ll move on to other things. :o) It is okay to stop nursing for a little while without putting baby down or getting into lengthy explanations just to change the energy of the situation.

    Teething babies also appreciate something cold right before a nursing to prevent biting.

  18. My little guy will do that sometimes while nursing and it totally catches me off guard. All I say is “gentle” and rub his face the way I want to be rubbed (instead of hit) and them use his hand to gently rub first his cheek and then mine. He still occasionally hits me (I think he is just swinging his arm around and happens to get me) all I have to say is gentle and he immediately rubs my face very gently. The work “gentle” is like a cue word now, anytime I say it, he almost always changes his behavior and will rub/pat the kitty, a playmate/sibling gently.

    • Amy Willa   Amy_willa

      Megan, that’s a great way to go about it! Especially for a younger child…the suggestion I gave would be more for 18 months plus…but “gentle” is such a simple instruction. That would definitely work for a 15 month old.

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