Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Fireworks

It's been quite a busy day around here. A few days ago, I finally got off my ass and decided that if Peeper and I were going to have New Years plans (Shrike is working) I would have to make them.

So, I put together a low-key, family-friendly, early evening New Years Even party. Of course, when you don't start inviting people until December 28, it's pretty much guaranteed to be low-key!

We ended up with just two other moms, plus kids (a barely-three boy, two recently-one girls, and Peeper) which was just the perfect size, actually.

While that was in the works, our friend MommyA had a death in the family (our deepest condolences to you and yours) and we offered to help out any way we could, specifically by watching "Baby"J (who is now 21 months old, and at least as big as Peeper), since all of her regular sitters are relatives who would also be attending the funeral.

As it turned out, that happened today, so J was here from about 9:30 this morning until right about the time that our party guests were arriving. (Yes, I did invite A and J to stay for the party, but they were, understandably, not up to it.)

I got most of the clean-up done yesterday, then prepped some food this morning, while Shrike hung out with the girls, and this afternoon, I actually did a load of dishes, or maybe even two, and mopped the kitchen floor, while they "helped" by running around, around, around, and through the kitchen.

Given all that, it actually went pretty smoothly, until this evening, when Peeper started taking out (I assume) her frustration at sharing both toys and Mama all day long on our friend A's little girl, H.

It was not cool the couple of times that she bonked J on the head with a stuffed toy, but they are pretty equally matched and it was a soft thing, and J was yanking toys back from her, too.

This evening, she was bonking a teeny fourteen-month-old on the head with hard toys.

This was not. Cool. At. All.

We had much Talking. About. It.

and the best I can get out of her is that she did it "because I like her" or possibly even, "because I love her."

Oh jeez.

With prompting, she agreed that she was tired of having company and wanted everyone to go home, and she may have volunteered that she was feeling "mad" but I don't know, it was an exercise in circular logic, really. There was also a lot of "because I hit her."

This isn't the first time that she's pushed her or played rough with her, and we're really not sure how to make it stop. We so do not want her to be That Kid.

For this evening, each of the toys that she weaponized (I believe there were three. Plus some pushes.) were put away until tomorrow, and I did a "time in" with her - taking her aside to talk about why it is not okay to hit, and how H and A aren't going to want to play with her (she looooves both H and A - she kept chasing A - yes, the mom - saying "I gonna get you!" and tickling her) if she hits H.

I told her that if someone hit her, I would be very mad and very sad and wouldn't want to be around them anymore, and that's how A feels when she hits H.

She could say all the right things and told me she understood, and then, two seconds later - wham!

At this point, we've not done "time outs" with her (for anything) mostly because we've really not seen a need for them, and also I'm not sure how effective they are at her age.

I much prefer the whole "gentle discipline" and "natural / logical consequences" thing, but I have described "time out" to her, in the sense of "do we need to do that in our family, to help you to remember. . . ?" and so far the threat usually does the trick.

Given that, I think it goes without saying that spanking is out of the question for us, and yet I will say it.

(Your kid, your choice, your business, but for us, it's 100% off the table, for many, many reasons. Not the least of which is that we both have tempers that tend to "snap" and, for myself, at least, I know, without a doubt, that if hitting her were an option at all, it would happen primarily when I am not in control of anger, and that truly frightens me. There have been many times, when I have thought, at the height of frustration, "If only I could hit her," and then a few minutes later, "Thank God I can't hit her." So, yeah, not gonna happen.)

Our goal, of course, is not to punish her for the behavior, but to change it - and to either eliminate her urge to hit, or to help her learn to control it.

Tonight, especially, I think that a time-out would have probably exacerbated the problem, because I'm almost certain that she was acting out as a reaction to having had other kids in her house all day, and having to share her toys and her Mama, so if I'd reacted by further isolating her from me and her stuff, I think that would have only made it worse.

I would think that the natural consequence of beating on your friends is that they don't want to play with you any more, or their mothers won't let them play with you, so it seems that a logical consequence for hitting would be to not be able to play with her friends.

I've told her that if we're at an activity (these are MOMS Club friends) and she hits, we will have to leave, but I'm pretty sure that's going to bite me in the ass. For one thing, I can't always leave, because I'm the president!
Also, there are times when she asks to go home, and I either want to or have stay, so I'm a little concerns that she's going to go bonk somebody in the head, so I'll take her home.

Maybe I need to revise the consequence to just having to sit with the grownups and not play for a while?

More importantly, though, I think we need to figure out why she's hitting, and address that, rather than just doing something to her after the fact.

I know that tonight she was feeling especially stressed (although you wouldn't have known it from her behavior other than the repeated toddler-head-whacking) so maybe this was kind of a one-off thing, but it's certainly not the first time she's pushed H, and she and C (T's almost-two-year-old) can really get into it.

At least they are pretty evenly matched, size-wise, and the toy yanking and pushing is pretty reciprocal and C has a big sister, so she - and her Mommy - are used to that sort of thing.

Poor little H is just like "What the hell?" As is her Mama.

A and T, and thus H and C, are probably the friends we see the most often, and Peeper really likes both kids (as well as C's kindergartener sister, whom we don't see as often) and is very comfortable with them, so maybe that's a factor in how she feels free to wail on them. (She never laid a hand on the other little girl, almost the same age as H, who was here tonight.)

Whatever it is, we just want it to stop.

We really don't want to be those people that the other moms avoid, because of their little bully of a kid, and I really don't want her to be that kid.

We're open to advice, of the gentle variety.


  1. We experience lots of throwing, with occasional slaps and lots of kicks. When Jacob (2 years 10 months) gets angry, he tends to go into more of a screaming meltdown, and often throws things around, which may or may not hit someone who gets in the way. We're still very much finding our feet with this, but things that have worked for us include:

    - if it's not hurting anyone or himself, then ignore. No eye contact, no facial expressions, no conversation, get up and walk away and start doing something interesting with your back turned. This works really quickly, but is hard to implement and doesn't work if there are other children involved, as the situation is more likely to escalate.

    - expectations that we always say sorry when at fault (this goes for us as well as him). We've used the word 'need' in this context, starting with "You hurt X. It's not nice to hurt, it makes people sad. You need to say 'sorry', then X will feel better again". Now he's used to it, we can say "What do you need to say?", he'll respond with saying or signing 'sorry', and then we have a hug and a kiss.

    - when he's angry and tantrumming, the biggest thing that helps is validating his feelings. Even just saying "I see you're feeling very angry right now" seems to work, and he usually calms straight down. If he doesn't, we ask why he's angry, and what we can do to help. We also suggest hitting cushions instead of throwing.

    - we have a tiny house, so we have to have a zero tolerance policy on throwing, or things would be getting broken all the time. This means no balls in the house, ever, and no throwing of anything, even if it's soft. If things get thrown after we've reminded him of this rule, then they get taken away until he's calmed down. When the item comes back, he's reminded by us saying "This was taken away because you threw it. When you throw things, you can break them or hurt people. We don't throw.".

    - if he doesn't stop hitting when angry after any of the above, then we remove ourselves from the room (I don't like time out, and I don't think of this as time out, this is removing any possible interaction from him to extinguish the behaviour).

    - we usually do a debrief, whatever the situation, when he's calmed down and is happy. In a neutral tone of voice, I would say something like "Do you remember when you hit X with the maracas? How do you think that made her feel?" (Looking for a response like sad or hurt) - "What would you do now if you had a maraca in your hand and felt mad?" (Hit a cushion or ask Mummy for a cuddle) - "How would X feel then?" (Not sad/not hurt). No judgement, just pointing out the facts and emphasising a preferential outcome.

    It's illegal to hit children here but I feel exactly the same as you described - in the heat of the moment I could so imagine doing it, but know I would never forgive myself, and know that once I did it I could never go back and stop myself again. So I am so glad that we don't hit too.

    That turned into a bit of an essay, sorry! Hope some of it proves helpful though. It's very difficult for me, as professionally I work as a behavioural therapist, working in a non-punitive programme with an autistic child, so I'm used to increasing desirable behaviours and decreasing inappropriate behaviours, but it's hard to transfer that to your own child without being too clinical :/.

    Good luck!

  2. My daughter is about a month younger than Peeper.

    For many of the same reasons as you, I try not to spank. I had a father who was very verbally abusive and had no problems spanking when he was especially mad at us, and I can tell you that it never made a difference and only made me hate him more!

    We have never really done time out either and have really been TRYING to work on natural consequences as well. One thing that has worked on more than one occasion, especially in a situation when my child it tired, or just at her limit with a certain circumstance, is for me to take her to her room (remove her form the situation), and sit and talk to her about her feelings about what happened and why etc etc. And often, if she is throwing a tantrum, I will ask her if she would like to take a little break and sit in her bed and read for a few minutes, and when she is ready to act appropriately, she can come out. I totally leave it up to her and it gives her a chance to decompress. There have been many times she comes out on her own, and other times I go to her room and ask if she is ready to come out with us again, and she tells me she is still taking a break. I assume this is sort of like a timeout, except I leave the control of when she can come out in her hands and she can decide when she is ready to behave. So far it has worked well, which has been VERY suprising to me!

    I have also noticed that mine has very specific actions and things that make her tick with different kids. For instance, her cousin who is 2 years older than her. I have NO problems when she comes to play without her parents, but when her dad is here, she totally victimizes herself. She constantly comes to me and tells me my child isn't sharing with her, but basically, anything my child picks up to play with, her cousin decides she wants and tells on her for not sharing. It makes my child look like a bad kid if you don't see the entire situation playing out. After awhile, my child refuses to share and it always ends in an ugly fight with the cousin getting her feelings hurt.

    I have lots of other examples. To some extent, when it is just me, I try to let the kids hash it out themselves as long as they are using their words and not hurting each other. Mine has a tendency to hit, or bite when she gets super frustrated, and I remind her all the time to use her words. Sometiems I have to remind my husband that when she is throwing a tantrum, but is using her words, we need tread lightly on how we react because she is frustrated in expressing herself and then us not responding appropriately and then lashes out in a physical way. You might also though consider reminding her to use her words to tell her friends how she is feeling instead of hitting them. You may have already done that though.

    Oh the stresses of a 3 year old!!!

  3. Thanks for the input.

    That sounds a lot like what we've done. Last night, I took her into her room and we talked and snugged and nursed for a while.

    I've been talking alot about "How did that make H feel? How did it make Mrs. A feel?"

    I've also told her (and today, she was parroting back to me) that "If there were some other kid who was hitting you all the time, it would make me very sad and very mad and I would not want to be around that kid, or her mama."

    We've also talked about how to use her words if someone has a toy she wants, rather than taking it away and hitting them over the head with it.

    (Seriously, if she just took it away, it would be bad enough, but every time - took the toy, hit her on the head. Good gravy, kid!)

    If she were tantrumming when she does this or acting mad or anything it would almost be easier to take, but she's totally calm about it.

    Grab toy, bonk head.

    When we ask "What did you just do?" she just grins and says "I hit H."

    What the hell?

    It's like she's some sort of mini-sociopath.

    Or three.


What say you?