On Saturday evening before dinner, the kids were playing together which is a somewhat new milestone. Keener and Grace are exactly 18 months apart and it hit me about 2 months ago when Keener said, “Grace, come play with me,” that we had arrived at a beautiful place. A place where they are able to play together, or at least side by side, which gives me an average of 10 whole minutes to unload the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, get dinner on, etc.
Generally, they play really well together. Keener will sometimes need a reminder to use “soft, gentle hands” and to take her moans as “get off me” when he has body slammed her to the ground, but most of the time it’s uneventful.
This night, however, it wasn’t. Grace was playing with a hammer. Keener took the hammer from her. They were both laughing so I bit my lip, trying to not immediately jump in saying, Would you like it if someone took something from your hands? Give it back to her — which I find myself saying often. Keener then hit her square in the head with the hammer. Grace is one tough cookie but she drew the line at a hammer to the head.
She instantly started crying and both my husband and I tended to her. I find myself saying Keener, I am so surprised you would do that! when he does something egregious. Earlier that day when I opened the car door to find milk splattered across the window next to his car seat, he even said it before me (“Are you surprised that I would do that? Why?”).
I find myself still needing to work on my initial reaction when he does something that makes me really mad — such as hitting, kicking, or intentionally making a huge mess. My first priority is for the behavior to stop — which it most likely does if I am saying something to him. But then what? What is the perfect punishment that fits the crime? What should I say? What should I do?
Recently, I have told him that he needs to take a moment to sit by himself. I will say, Keener, stop! I am so surprised you would do that! Sit here and don’t move until I come back and get you. This buys me the time I need to calm myself down and figure out my next move. My internal dialogue is generally as follows: He’s 3. He’s impulsive. Did he mean to hurt Grace? No. He was just acting on his energy. I need him to know how wrong it is to hit someone in the head with a hammer, however, I’m not looking to stay mad at him for the next hour, much less 5 minutes. I need him to know that was wrong, but more importantly, teach him what he CAN do when he is feeling that extra energy in his body.
While many times I am alone dealing with such aftermath, my husband was home and giving Grace the TLC she needed. So I had my heart to heart with him on the toilet (because of course he had to poop.) Keener, you really hurt Grace when you hit her on the head with the hammer (“I didn’t mean to.”) I know you didn’t mean to hurt her, but you did. Grace doesn’t cry a lot and she was in tears. What are you going to do to make it right? Yes, I think apologizing is a good first step. What else? Yes, getting her an ice pack would be very kind. Daddy has her upstairs and when she comes down, I expect you to do both of those things.
I posted this brief article, What to Say to Little Kids Instead of “Say Sorry” on my Facebook page back in March and find myself thinking about it often. Particularly, the part about taking action/responsibility really resonates with me.
I then wiped his butt (will he ever learn how to wipe himself?) and continued my heart to heart: I think that happened because you were excited and had extra energy. Was your body feeling out of control? Let’s think about what you can do next time your body feels that way. We both agreed that hitting a pillow with the hammer would release his excitement and keep everyone safe and healthy.
By helping Keener identify how his body is feeling, I can then teach him an appropriate response to act on when he is feeling that way. For example the other day at the pool, he screamed when he was really excited. As a result, I did the following:
- Went over to him
- Told him to stop screaming
- Explained why screaming at the pool is not appropriate (we have to keep everyone safe and healthy and when you scream like that, it makes people think there is a problem. We don’t want to scare anyone.)
- I gave him an alternate, appropriate, option. When your body is feeling so excited, you can say ‘I’m so excited’ and jump up and down!” That will help your body release that excitement in a way that keeps everyone feeling safe.
Once the behavior stops, and the child is calm, we want to use that as a teaching opportunity. We can’t go back in time, but we can teach them what they can do next time so the behavior doesn’t repeat in the future.