We’re standing in church and she hits my face and then looks for my reaction. She is my daughter–I’m not quite sure if I can call her a toddler yet, as crawling is still her primary mode of transportation–and she reaches to hit me again.
Before I learned a new way of thinking of my toddler’s behavior, so many thoughts would have been flying through my mind. Leading to words coming out to her that I might not mean.
Why are you hitting me? That is so mean!
That is not nice. Don’t hit!
I can’t believe she is acting so badly in front of all these people. We are in church for crying out loud!
Stop hitting right now, or I will take you out of church.
You are so naughty. What did I do wrong in my parenting that led to this behavior?
You are so naughty! Stop!
Sometimes these thoughts still cross my mind in the moment. It takes a long time to rewire our brains. Also she’s got a pretty good right hook–my instant reaction when in pain is to lash back with words.
Then I learned that impulse control is not developed–really at all–in toddlers. Her brain, literally, cannot control her actions. As parents our job is to help impulse control develop–to teach our children to control actions, words, thoughts.
Children are the best experimenters; they are constantly trying things to figure out how the world works and how to help their brains develop When she drops the toy to the floor she is testing: is gravity still working? Yep, still working. When she open and closes a cupboard door: is the ball still there? Object permanence–yes! When she hits my face: how will mom react?
And that’s the big one. That’s the one I have control over. I can’t control gravity or object permanence or a million other things, but I do have the ability to teach my daughter by my responses. Will I be angry or supportive? Will I be embarrassed or thoughtful?
I’m still developing my impulse control, my self-control, my patience, too. But knowing that her brain is not capable of these feats yet, makes it so much easier to say: Let me help you. You may not hit me. I will help hold your hands so you don’t hurt me.
Because I am the mama. She is the little one. I am here to help her while her brain is developing the ability to help herself. This has helped me reframe my expectations and my reactions. It really has made all the difference.