Today I got angry. Really “rage like“, angry. I don’t get angry like that very often, and I hate it when I feel out of control like that! I almost shake from the emotional overload and often resolve in tears.
I always try to breathe and regain composure. I remind myself that although it’s perfectly human to get angry, how I handle the after match is what’s significant. I decide to slowly calm myself down. I consider all the positive things I have around me and I breathe- in and out, in and out, in and out.
When I’ve calmed down I often feel sad. I even feel shame. How could I loose control and let myself become so angry? Why did I let it get this far?
I have impulse control, yet I struggle to make sense of my feelings.
I’m 31 years old, not 3!
Recently I have been asked a few questions about “toddler hitting” and I’ve also come across many posts from desperate mums asking advice on how to deal with the sudden onset of violence from their children! There are many ways of dealing with this completely normal behaviour in young children, but I believe empathy to be the best approach!
I want to start with the controversial stance that a child can never be “naughty“- a child’s behaviour can be unpleasant but the behaviour doesn’t define the child. Always look behind the behaviour to figure out the cause.
“Why has this super sweet little kid suddenly turned in to a vampire with a punch to rival Mike Tyson?”
It’s quite simple really- he hasn’t got impulse control, yet his brain is developing at an incredible pace. He is trying to make sense of the world without the tools we have readily available.
The hitting is an impulse, one that a young child would find almost impossible to stop. So how can we help a child that’s hitting out? How can we help a sibling that is constantly exposed to violence from a heavy handed big sister or brother?
We really need to try and look for the reason behind the violence. Does it happen when the child is tired? Is he hungry? Is it jealousy as the result of a new sibling? Regardless of the reason, when you’ve figured it out, address it with love and empathy. Try to help your child to feel safe enough to express his feelings and his needs to you. Make sure you also hear and see the nonverbal communication, like hitting- what’s going on? Why is your child feeling this way, and most importantly- what can we as parents do to help with these feelings?
My son was a biter and the biting was often a result of frustration. He needed to get that frustration out, and as they say- “better out then in“. Unfortunately he didn’t have the tools to let it out in a peaceful way- he was far too young to have that level of understanding and control.
“We needed to find a way for our son to release his stress, which didn’t leave his sister with bite marks and pain!”
I never told my son to stop biting! Regardless of how inconvenient the biting is, it was still used as an outlet of emotions. It’s was still the expression of a need.
I didn’t stop him from biting, or hitting for that matter but I firmly let him know that I would NOT let him bite or hit his sister. I empathised with him on how hard it is to feel that angry!
Anger isn’t fun- it’s mind numbing for the best of us so instead of assuming that he made a conscious choice to be angry and asking him to suppress an anger he couldn’t control, I redirected the biting to a suitable surface- an apple, a pillow or anything that wouldn’t be bruised and battered, really.
When he had released the anger I sat down with him, and talked with him about how he felt. I made sure he knew that I would always be there for him. I knew this had to be the case, regardless of how difficult I found his feelings.
Through the years I’ve come across so many different kinds of advice on hitting and how to stop it. Some which has been terrible and some which is reasonable. One that really grates me is the advice to only reward positive behaviour, with attention. So basically you would ignore the child that hit and focus all the attention on the child that was hurt.
The only way this would work in a positive way is if the child that hit out was old enough to both have impulse control, logical thinking and consequential thinking; this rules out most toddlers and young children.
what we are be doing by ignoring a child who’s struggling and acting out is telling him that “I won’t help you with your unpleasant feelings! I don’t want to see when you need me and I’ll chose to ignore you when you’re telling me you need me”
“When someone hurts my baby, I turn in to a lioness. A bundle of strength and defence. But what if it was my child that hurt my child?”
This is when I believe it to be crucial to remember that both kids involved are victims! the obvious one is the child that was hurt of course, but the child who hit out didn’t do so in a calculated manner. He didn’t have the development to consider the consequences or the pain he would cause. He felt pain and upset and needed it released to not become overwhelmed and hitting out was the option available to do so.
“Both children need support, both children are hurting! Hold them both and help them heal together”
Hitting is not acceptable when it hurts another person. However, hitting can be a release and a helpful tool in teaching emotional control. Channel it! The next time your older child feels jealous and decided to hit little sister. Don’t shout. Don’t get angry. Remember that’s your baby too and right now it’s all too much for him.
Show him what he can hit. Talk about gentle hands, hold him close and let him talk. Ask him what made him feel like hitting and empathise with him! Feeling out of control is exhausting and to then be ignored or punished will make the emotions so much bigger.
When we ask children to keep their feelings to themselves we are asking them to be in charge of their own emotional well being from a very young age.
In a world where so many children are forced to suppress their feelings, where their emotional wellbeing is considered second to the way they behave; we truly need more empathy and a healthier understanding of emotional release.
Emotional control is taught with support and kindness not through punishment and exclusion!
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