A reader asks:
“My five year old still hits or is aggressive to his 3 yo sister often in the day out of frustration what am I doing wrong?! I’m afraid I am getting snappy as I’m finding it hard to understand.”
And another reader adds:
“I really don’t understand what we’re supposed to do or say once the hitting has already happened. Our kids are the same ages as yours. They play together SO well so much of the time and then sometimes they make each other absolutely crazy.”
Ah. What we’re “supposed to do.”
Yeah. I know you wanted one answer. You’re getting 31.
First, I want to acknowledge, right up front, that this is one of the hardest questions for people who want a set of instructions, a thing to say, an action to take whenever it happens. That’s why time out is so popular. It’s so easy. It’s so clear. It’s a list of what to do. Your child hits someone, you tell them in a stern voice that it’s not okay, you put them in time out (or a la Supernanny, on the “naughty spot”–ugh) for the same number of minutes as their age or until they apologize, you make them apologize, give them a hug and then let them get up. If they don’t stay in the time out spot, you walk them back umpteen times until they stay. In short, you wield power over them. I get it why it’s appealing. It’s a clear instruction.
Respectful parenting is harder work. Better results–much better results–but definitely harder work.
The first and hardest thing is that you have to learn to set aside the punishment-vs-discipline desire to wield power. You have to frame (and re-frame and re-frame, because you’ll forget) all behavior as expressing or communicating a need or a problem they are having. And you have to frame discipline as a process of helping children solve a problem, not suffer for having a problem. That’s the first order of business. How’s that for a simple instruction? Once you’ve done that, you’re well on your way. But yes, that’s a process, and not how most of us were raised, and that frame shift doesn’t come overnight. So what do you do in the meantime? You want to know “what to do.” These moms asked because they want to know “what to do.”
There is not one thing to do (unlike the simplicity of time out or sending kids to their room.) There are 31.
No. You don’t do all 31. You do one. Or two. Or four. You do whichever one or ones apply in the situation. You have to pull out all of your critical thinking skills and decide for yourself.
I told you it was harder work. It’s worth it, I promise.
I know that this is hard, and often unsatisfying for those of you who don’t tolerate ambiguity well, or who have lived a life in which you learned–as most of us do–that there is one answer to every question. Maybe your childhood and your schooling did not prepare you to be faced with a huge basket full of options. Maybe you were raised in a tradition or in a home in which there was the right thing and the wrong thing or the right answer and the wrong answer, and little to no “grey area” in between. Maybe your education–in whatever form–did not equip you to not only easily and quickly sift through many possibilities and figure out which puzzle piece fits in this particular instance, but to fully embrace and enjoy that process. If this is describing you, you’re not alone–mainstream education and traditional parenting don’t teach us to do those things or think in that way. And if this is you, know that I get it that this process is scary and overwhelming and can seem elusive and hopeless.
Know that I know that if critical thinking and analysis and weighing many options and tolerating ambiguity don’t come naturally to you, mindful parenting is harder. It’s still possible. It’s possible to build those skills. Do your best. A day at a time. Resist the urge to “chuck it all” and choose the easy solution that has one simple answer about “what to do.” Know that you’re already resisting. That’s why you’re here. You can do this. I’m sure of it. Take a deep breath, say “I can do this”, and keep practicing. The more you practice, the easier (and faster!) it gets.
So…a five year old and a three year old are hitting one another. You want to know what you’re doing wrong, and what you’re “supposed to do.” Here’s what you’re supposed to do. Not all of them. Some of them. Whichever ones fit the situation. Yes, you have to decide.
Most of them are not answers, they’re questions. Because that’s how mindful parenting works.
Oh. You wanted to know what to do when the hitting has already happened. One thing. The answer. It’s different for every child and every parent, but we’ve already covered that. But since you’ve read this far, you deserve a little reward. Here’s what to do:
You can do this.
We believe the nucleus of a nation is the family. The success of a nation depends on the strength of its families. You develop a family, you develop a nation and we hope to do just that!