Friday, November 8, 2013

Ask and answer

Hello friends,

Thanks for your thoughts and emails on sibling aggression. I know it is hard to comment without knowing more details and there is no "one size fits all" solution. Let me share some of my thoughts today and hopefully this will be helpful.

So once again, here's the question from the reader:

"Hi, your thoughts are very interesting :). So, what would be your approach if the younger one gets upset and starts to hit the elder one? It happens to me for half a year already and mind you neither the mom nor dad lay their hands on the children during discipline time." - Anonymous commented on "Siblings - preparing for the new sibling", 29 October 2013.

When either of my children are upset and start behaving badly, my thought process goes like this: my baby is asking for help; what does he/she need help with; and how do I help him/her.


Hitting, or biting or throwing a tantrum, is a release of emotion. A very heavy and strong emotion. A toddler can feel the intense emotion but they can't always control it and they can't always find other ways to express themselves. For that moment, they lose control of themselves. Their emotions are bigger than they are. Toddlers are newbies at life. they are just beginning to learn to express frustration, pain, desire, disappointment, fear, and they start doing that by crying or taking action, instead of using words.

It is my job to handle their releases confidently, to provide an anchor for them, to be patiently present while they process their emotions, and to provide them empathy. I think it's important to have this sort of perspective. I know some parents get mad when their children get mad. They yell when their children yell. They accuse their children, "Why can't you listen?" Well, if you have the perspective that your child is lost and crying for help, then I think that will make a world of difference to how you deal with a toddler in that situation. You become calm, patient, understanding, and basically, you don't take it personally. You understand that they aren't being evil or naughty and that they aren't doing this on purpose.


Ok, so that's the first step. Now the hitting.

Firstly, prevention is better than cure. Observe your children closely, be prepared. If your child attempts to hit his sibling, block it if possible. Place an arm between the two children and say, "I won't let you hit your brother." Or you can hold his hands and you might say, "You're having a hard time not hitting so I'll help you by holding your hands."

If you can't prevent the hit, deal with it calmly. It is interesting to young children when there are big reactions and we don't want to encourage them to hit as a way to make things happen. Move the children away from each other and say, "I won't let you hit your brother. Hitting hurts." You can tell him, "I know you're upset because you wanted to play with that toy. I know." Comfort the child who got hit and do it calmly without making a big fuss.

If you sense that your child needs to hit something to relieve himself, offer him an alternative like a pillow. Say, "If you need to hit, hit the pillow." Let him stamp his feet. Let him go outside and yell. Let him get those feelings of frustration or anger out. Give him an outlet.

Importantly, you have to be consistent. Deal with each occasion immediately and never let things slide.

If the hitting continues, then it becomes an issue of your toddler pushing limits and boundaries. He is figuring out where the boundaries are and your job then is to set limits firmly and gently. The response is the same as above and in time, he will accept that's the limit.


Ok, so those are my thoughts. Hope they are constructive and provide some new perspectives. Happy weekend, everyone.

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