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15 January 2014

My name is Lex. And I have a violent toddler.

Not really. I don’t think so. Not intentionally.

He’s there, though, in that stage where he’s learning his emotions and his strength and certain social implications and behaviors.

And at first I freaked a little ’cause I couldn’t imagine where he was getting this idea from. I’m pretty sure he’s never seen a person hit another person out of frustration or anger.

This isn’t the-baby-doesn’t-know-what-he’s-doing hitting, either. He knows. I don’t let him get into something he wants, and he yells and smacks me. It’s deliberate, and it’s definitely related to his negative emotion.

But I’m told that it’s normal. It’s a stage toddlers go through.

I’m also told there isn’t a whole lot to do about it at his age except model appropriate behavior. Because he’s too young to understand punitive action like time-outs or spankings.

Which is seriously long-term planning, and seriously hard because no one hits people around here, but neither are we great about calmly working through our disappointments and frustrations. We’re getting better, especially with watchful eyes around, but we’re – um – passionate people. Tables and door frames have felt our wrath. On occasion.

I really want there to be an easy answer, but everything I read seems to give a few suggestions and then fall back on, “And most importantly, continue to model calm, appropriate behavior when you face frustrations …”

Which isn’t to say I’m not trying those other things:

Convert the hit into a positive experience. Intercept it, and make it a high-five.

This kind of works –  when I’m really on my game, and paying attention because I’m fully present in the situation, and have a free hand to high-five with, and am awake enough to move that fast … which is pretty much never. 

The two, maybe three, times that has worked, it didn’t really work. It didn’t diffuse anything. It just became a series of furious high-fives, and I laughed, and he yelled

Anyway, what does that teach him? Am I going to raise the weird kid in second grade who frantically and repeatedly high-fives the kid who is picking on him? I’m not sure if that’s better. I imagine the psychological damage done to the offender might be worse than a quick jab to the kidney.

Hold his hands to his sides, put on your “serious/sad” face, and calmly and simply explain, “We do not hit.” He won’t understand right away, but he’ll grow into it.

This doesn’t even kind of work. Holding his hands to his sides is akin to being chased and caught, or hugged, or any number of other silly things that we do in play. And apparently, like my mother before me, my “serious face” is hilarious.

The combination of the two sends him into fits of giggles, which render me powerless to do anything “calmly.” If I’m having a Super Mommy moment, I laugh with him because his giggles sound like sunshine and gumdrops. If I’m tired and hurried and have just been blindsided by an angry little fist to the face, I have to deliver him to his father or put him out of danger and walk away because his giggles sound like maniacal, defiant goading.

Tell and show your child what he should do.

This one sometimes works, but never without causing severe anxiety, which sometimes negate the pay-off.

He knows “gentle.” On faces and on puppies and on other babies. We’ve shown him. He understands. He can do it.

So when I get smacked – usually after he’s laughed at my attempt to be patient and earn Good Mommy Points – I bring my face close to his and coo, “Can you be gentle?”

Sometimes he does. I close my eyes, and I feel his chubby hand and tiny fingertips like feathers on my skin as he softly traces the geography of my face. And I smile and tell him, “Good job,” and he gives me a kiss, and rainbows appear in the background and little bluebirds land on my shoulder.

Other times I close my eyes and after an agonizing pause … he smacks me in the face again. (Which is why my eyes are closed in the first place.) Occasionally he does both. First the gentle fingertips, accented at the end by a short swat on the forehead. He’s got to keep me guessing, after all, that’s how he maintains his power.

Again, I wonder what I’m teaching him. When a kid takes his toy and he gets frustrated he should gently caress that kid’s face? Creepy.


Parents – Wisdom? Thoughts? Did yours do this? What did you do about it? Did it work? Or at least share a funny story of your kids hitting when they were toddlers so I know I’m not alone.

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