Hitting, Parenting, and Many Tools

You know that line, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”  at the beginning of a Tale of Two Cities? Yeah. That’s what life is like for us a lot of the time around here. We’re, all three of us, emotionally intense people. So, when we’re happy, it’s awesome. And when we have a bad day? It’s BAD.

Fiona is three which is hard to start with. Add in a healthy dollop of emotional intensity, a few pinches of persistence, independence, and need for control, and a big old scoop of very bright and you have a recipe for some very big, very loud, very physical tantrums.

We’ve been working on it. Take deep breaths. Use your words. Etc.

But we were having trouble with her lashing out and hitting me. In fact, we were having a lot of trouble with it. She was hitting when she was told to do something. She was hitting when she was told not to do something. She was hitting when she didn’t get her way. She was hitting when a toy didn’t do what she wanted it to. Yeah, she actually got mad at her toys and walked into the kitchen to hit me.

Yeah. I was just thrilled. Just freaking thrilled.

I tried to get her to use her words. She shut down and cried. I tried labeling the emotions I saw. She lashed out more. I tried time outs. She started hitting me, then putting herself in time out while sobbing that she was a mean kid.

I was worried.

It didn’t feel normal. My gut was telling me that something was wrong. So I watched and I took it easy on her and I listened. And one day, in the bath, she was playing with her Dora doll and twin dolls and Dora was hitting the babies. “Oh!” I said, “Dora is hitting the babies? Why is Dora hitting?”

She looked up at me and glared, “Because she’s big and she’s mad and she’s mean!”

“Hm.” I said, frowning as a light-bulb slowly brightened in the back of my mind, “Do you know anyone who hits?”

Then the whole story flowed out of her. There is a bigger boy at her preschool and he hits. And he hits the littler kids and Fiona is friends with all of the littler kids. And he gets too close and he pushes her and she doesn’t like him and he’s mean and he’s scary and he hurts her friends. And she can’t make him stop. And all of the words flowed out of her and she started crying.

I scooped her out of the bath and wrapped at towel around her shoulders and let her drip and cry on my rapidly soaked shirt. I reassured her. I told her I would talk to her teacher. I told her that we could make it better.

And she stopped hitting. Almost immediately. Almost completely.

Now, we still have an occasional problem, but I am handling it a little better. When she hits me, I gently tell her what her hands are saying and ask her if she could use her voice to say the same things, “Fiona, when you hit me, your hands say that you’re angry and want to hurt me. Do you think your words would agree?”

Here she usually nods or shakes her head.

“Oh, do you think your words would say that you’re hungry/frustrated/tired/overwhelmed?”

And we find ourselves snuggled and comforted and loved. And we both, together, find the words to work our way out of anger that wants to lash out and out of anger that wants to respond with punishment.

And I’m not perfect at it. I still get mad. I still get frustrated. I still have days were I would rather punish than coach. But I’ll get there and it gets a little easier to do every time that I practice it.

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