Daniel and I are playing on the couch, innocently and I think we are having fun, when out of nowhere he slaps me. Flat hand across the face. *the horror* I wasn’t really sure how to deal with it at the time, I think purely out of shock. Daniel is a very loving, social child who to my knowledge is not aggressive at all. Is it normal for toddlers to be hitting? What am I doing wrong? Why would he do that? What should I be doing?
Since that incident he has done it quite a few times, in completely unrelated scenarios. I couldn’t understand it. Our obvious first reaction was to scold him, to have him understand that this is not okay. That hurting others is not how we handle our feelings. Kind of like you would talk to a child with the understanding of action causes reaction. Except that between one and three years of age, children have not developed that understanding yet.
First of all – if you are or have been feeling like me in terms of the “why”, let me assure you of the bat, that you have not done anything wrong. Your child is experiencing completely normal emotions. Hooray! Very real for them, and sometimes really difficult for us as adults to understand when their behaviour is not “acceptable”.
What I have found is that the emotion behind these little hitting “episodes” is fear. That’s right. You may be thinking what the heck, because that’s what I was thinking. Keep reading! Although your child may be laughing, the aggression is driven by fear. Most importantly, his intentions are not to hurt you or anyone else. With this mind he doesn’t need punishment, in fact punishment may actually create a habit.
Important to note is that not all children respond to fear by hitting, it is however an innate human reaction like fight or flight. So here is what I have learnt, we teach our children that we don’t like when they express emotions. I thought this was insane. However thinking about when Daniel falls, and cries, throws a tantrum all my initial reactions are aimed at getting him to stop. I sis, offer him a boob or bottle. Walk, rock, or tell him to shhhhh… thereby forcing him to get over and move past those feelings before he is actually ready. Instead of trying to get him to experience the feelings, and understand that it’s okay to feel that way. By him not expressing his feelings – he ends up bottling them and then hits me at random other times.
Toddlers don’t fully understand themselves, or the world around them. Our reactions are sometimes confusing if they don’t understand what they have done wrong. So they will keep doing it until they do understand. Hence punishment might not be the right solution. However being gentle, attentive and present, is all they really need at times of emotional outbursts. We aren’t fully into the tantrum phase just yet, but I would assume that, to be the biggest form of emotional outburst. Although not kosher, it really is a good release. Like we sometimes just need to scream and cry it out? Toddlers do too. Just for no reason. All you need in that moment (When it is happening to you.), is a hug, and someone to silently sit with you while you cry your little heart out. So allowing your child feel his emotions in a non-destructive way is the most positive reaction you can have.
There aren’t too many solutions here, because as much as I’d like to give you a step by step solution of what to do (for myself too), each child is different. There is no one size fits all for any phases All I try to focus on is understanding where my children are at, so that I can better react to whatever they may be going through. In that way I figure out the best way to react based on each situation.
Understanding that he might be expressing his fear has helped me be patient, more empathetic and although I think I will still be frustrated, it may take me longer to get there which is a win. Right now I’m all about the small wins – so that is good enough for me.