Kids have tantrums. That’s just a fact of life that’s universal to all children (and actually several adults too). When you’re raising kids you need to be ready for crying, screaming, throwing toys and pouty lips. But the worst kind of outburst a parent can experience is one that has the parent themselves in the crosshairs, and that is when your child hits you.
My son is on the doorstep of the “Terrible Twos“. At 18 months he has exploded into strong-headed personality. This pint-sized bundle of attitude thinks he can do everything himself, is in charge of everyone else and of course, like all children, is never wrong. Sounds like a real treat, doesn’t he? I don’t mean to make my son out to be a turd, he’s a sweet and hilarious kid most of the time. But boy can he be naughty. Strange thing is that when its your kid, there’s a bizarre charm to being an arrogant a-hole. Strange but true.
But there’s one thing that Elliott does that is never cute, no matter the circumstances. Within the last couple of months Elliott has learned from another child in his preschool class that when you’re upset with something, the appropriate response is to hit the closest person to you. Parents know that when you have a toddler in daycare and they are exposed to bad behavior it is damn near impossible to unring that bell. So now we have a hitter.
Seemingly out of the blue we went from Elliott throwing himself on the ground to Elliott throwing his fists when he gets upset, and let me tell you, it’s horrible. No matter his small size and weak strength, when my 1 and a half year old looks me straight in the eye and slaps my face it hurts more than any pain you can imagine. I know he’s still just a toddler and this is all part of learning to express himself, but damn if it doesn’t cut deep.
It’s hard as a dad to reconcile that this little person who hasn’t even learned to string two words together yet can comprehend how he makes me feel when he hits me. I know he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. But it’s so incredibly sad nonetheless when he hits me. He might as well be aiming for my heart. I want nothing more than to protect him from all harm, and keep him happy at all times, so when he acts his aggression out in my or his mothers direction it’s hard to think rationally about it. I take it personally when I know that I shouldn’t.
So how is a parent supposed to respond to being hit by their young child? Well the obvious answer for someone in my circumstances, when we’re building the foundation of what is right and wrong for him, is we try to express “gentle touch”, and to show sadness in reaction to being hit. We’re slowly getting through to him. When Elliott hits now, he immediately sticks out his lip and looks in our eyes in anticipation of our reaction. While he hasn’t stopped hitting yet, he’s beginning to learn what it means.
As part of a parenting team it’s important to support each other too. Be on the same page about how to handle these situations. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by this stuff, it’s so important to be able to “Tag” the other parent in in those moments. When both parents become overly frustrated it usually ends in disaster. So be mindful of your spouse/partner and identify when they need a break. Use each other as a solution instead of being weighed down by the problem together.
I can only imagine what life is going to be like when Elliott gets older and starts deliberately acting out towards us. The first time he yells “I hate you” I’m going to straight up lose my shit. I know it’ll happen, but I’ll never be ready for it. The best we can do is to try and steer him in the right direction and mind-control his ass into being a sweet little guy forever.
A guy can hope, right?