Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nice Hands

Not too long ago, Emmalee, who is quite literally drama personified, came to the unsettling realization that her shouts of “No!” were not being heeded.  Despite her angry protests, she was still being coerced into such unpleasantness as diaper changes and being buckled into her car seat.  This could not be tolerated, so Emma was forced to try a new tactic.  She realized that her adorable little hands and feet could be used as weapons, and she lashed out with her newly developed hitting and kicking skills.

For me, this was a baffling turn of events.  I do not understand how Emma came to this realization, as we are a strictly non-violent household.  We do not spank, or act aggressively, or throw things in anger.  And Emma does not attend daycare, so her experiences with other children are limited.  I cannot begin to imagine where my sweet, innocent little child learned such behavior.  Perhaps aggression is an innate human trait. 
Regardless of where Emma’s new habit came from, it simply could not be endured.  If I have only one goal in this quest in parenting, it is that I will not end up like one of the helpless, broken women on Supernanny who suffer domestic violence at the hands of their toddlers and preschoolers.  I would put an immediate stop to the hitting and kicking.

That is when the trouble started, because despite the fact that I am quite a bit larger than Emmalee, she is the one with the fighting spirit.  Telling her firmly, “No.  We do not hit” or “Hands are not for hitting” or “We don’t hit Mommy” just wasn’t cutting it.  The more I said no, the angrier and more determined she became.  She did not want to participate in whatever event I’d deemed necessary, and she wasn’t going down quietly.  I discovered that when a properly aimed swing landed its target of my face, eliciting my own anger, this did not at all help the situation.  My irritation seemed to give Emma the green light for an all out war, ending with quite a bit of tears and frustration for all parties involved.

I was stuck, so naturally, I turned to Babycenter.com’s all knowing database for advice.  I was told to try time out, but I just couldn’t do it.  I may be na├»ve in my thinking on this topic, but I still feel like Emma is too young and won’t truly get the message I’m trying to instill with a time out.  

And then, an epiphany.  I cannot recall exactly where the inspiration came from, perhaps it was from my research on Babycenter.com, but the idea was pure genius and so simple.  Rather than approach the situation with negative words such as “no” and “don’t,” I would attempt to send a positive message.  Due to my degree in early childhood education, and the fact that I own a book titled “Positive Discipline,” you would think that I might have thought of this sooner.  In any case, the results were amazing.  Every time Emma hit, I responded by saying “Have nice hands please.”  The first time I said this, she seemed a little taken aback.  This was a new development.  I demonstrated what “nice hands” meant by taking her hand and having her gently stroke my face.  We eventually added the term “nice feet” to our new vocabulary.

It is astounding how happily Emmalee responds to this new, positive approach.  Despite the fact that I hear, “No, Mommy!” about eight thousand times a day, having the word “no” said to Emma is the trigger that changes her from a happy-go-lucky toddler into a seething, Hulk-like beast.  But when the same request is made from a “do” instead of “don’t” standpoint, Emma is content to comply.  Now she will sometimes come up to me and put her little hands on my face and say sweetly, “Nice, Mommy.”  It melts me every time.

So, for the moment, we have emerged from our hitting crisis.  I know that it is never wise to become complacent with a (almost) two year old lurking around.  For now though, I am so proud of Emma for being such a good girl, for learning to use her words instead of her hands and feet, and for beginning to learn to deal with her frustrations more constructively.  And I am so proud of me for not accepting defeat and instead finding a way to successfully deal with my child.  Things are not perfect, Emma still occasionally takes a swing, but for the most part we have “nice hands.”  And Mommy thinks that is quite nice indeed.