Friday, June 24, 2011

puttin' the smack down

"I would never throw these books across the room, mom."
If you were wondering why my posts have been a little sparse lately, it has something to do with the recent battles going on around here. No, not the ones between my husband and me when we both want to lick the brownie beater. Something far more difficult to reconcile...

Seems our little peanut is becoming his own man. This transformation, apparently, is going to begin with smacking and throwing things.

It's not exactly a newsflash, but no, our nearly 20 month old can't communicate very well. He's got some token words and signs down pat and he's eagerly learning more. But when he has a passionate yearning to accomplish something or figure something out and he CAN'T, all hell breaks loose. Sounds familiar?

Luckily, he knows how to ask for "alp". Usually accompanied with desperation in his voice, "alp" is cried while desperately signing. When he asks for "alp", it's great. But other other times, anger gets the better of him and all he wants to do is throw or smack things out of frustration.

Which leads me into the next aspect of his frustration: authority. Fresh out of infancy, my toddler is eager to do things his way. On his time table. Usually he can be coaxed or distracted into compliance. Singing songs, making silly faces or weird noises, asking him to make animal sounds, or breaking out a long lost toy will all distract him. Providing choices is empowering to him as well. But alas, these are not foolproof nor always practical ways to avoid a meltdown. It's exhausting!

Just when I thought I had the whole 'calm baby thing' down pat, my little guy has to go and smack me. Sigh.

So what to do? React sharply by yelling? That could just encourage him to get a rise (and negative attention) from me. Which probably means more smacking in the future.

Give a time out? That may send a message that he's unlovable when he's upset. And he would be totally baffled as to why mommy - loving mommy - wants him to cry all alone with no comfort. Leave him alone when he's already frustrated and can't communicate why? It seems cruel.

But then, I know with my preschoolers time outs occasionally (very rarely) are necessary. It does help older kids know that sometimes they need some personal space to cool off and calm down. Consequences and limits are important to help children feel secure, especially in a large group setting. Time out is never used as a source of embarrassment, but a way for a child to gather his or her thoughts and approach a conflict from a new direction. But my 20 month old can't possibly get all that.

Ignore the smacking and throwing? Well clearly this option makes me a permissive pushover. And doesn't help teach him the behaviors that we desire - not to hit or throw things!

Add to the confusion that it's okay to hit a drum or throw a ball. Some things are for hitting and throwing, not others. This confusion explains why my tot is going around the house (and the yard) hitting and throwing things of all shapes and sizes, then looking back at me with a questioning glance. "Can I hit this mom?"

More sighs.

So, there's my dilemma. And probably the same dilemma of all parents of toddlers around the globe. I'm wrestling with what to do about gently correcting behavior in a loving but serious, meaningful way. I want to model empathy so that he knows he is respected and loved no mater what. (No, I don't think that is fluffy or a bunch of bunk.) I don't want to make a "mistake" in these early stages of discipline even though I know there's no easy answer or quick fix. Besides, I know I've already made lots of mistakes and more are on the way. C'mon: screwing up the consistency of his baby food puree is WAY more forgivable then screwing up his foundation of positive discipline.

This is going to end badly. One of us will cry.

After all, no one wants to end up with a Bratty, Ungrateful, Unruly, Little Giant.

So I am committed to trying a combination of things because hey, this parenting gig is all about trial and error. One thing is for sure, he's too small for time outs. I'm not sure that's a route I ever want to go after researching it more thoroughly. It can set up a power struggle which is not what I want to do. Here's an interesting article I read on the topic. What do you think?

For now, I'll keep taking my licks in stride. And savoring the kisses and snuggles whenever I can get them.


  1. Hi Mama Bird... I so hear your dilemma!

    If I might offer a few words of advice... yes, your little man is way too young for time out, so your instincts are spot on. When he hits you, he's looking for a boundary. You can take his hands in yours and say firmly (without anger but also without a smile) 'STOP, I won't let you hit me.'

    Distraction is much overrated- you need to deal with the behaviour. I'm a big fan of the RIE philosophy- here's a link to a really helpful article on dealing with exactly the behaviours you're describing:

    and another:

    I hope this helps- I find that Janet Lansbury really taps into what I naturally feel about discipline and childcare- setting limits lovingly and clearly.

  2. (And BTW, I also believe time outs are okay for older kids when handled exactly as you describe them.)

  3. Here's another great link about infant care philosophy that I found this morning- it's a pdf file to download:

  4. Aunt Annie,
    Thanks for all the kind words and great links! It feels good to have someone hear me and "get" it!


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Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.