My three-year-old is a confident, funny, creative and smart little boy, but he hits. He used to hit other children on the playground and his "friends" whom we invited over for play dates. Since starting preschool, he seems to have stopped hitting other kids, and to make up for it, he just hits me, his baby brother and sometimes, his dad and grandmother a lot more. And it makes me angry. Like so angry that I see red.
My parents followed a very gentle philosophy when it came to parenting. And so do my husband and I. Before I had children, I always assumed that parents who hit their kids either chose to spank them or were uncontrollable people with anger issues. This is not to excuse violence of any kind against children. I'm not saying that just because you hate your child during the moment they use their head as a weapon and narrowly miss breaking your nose, that it's okay to hit them. It's not. But it is certainly a challenge to stop yourself from doing it. And that is something I find surprising.
When my son was about 18 months, I started doing a quick yoga routine every morning because I found that just a little bit of exercise and mindful breathing would keep me sane through our tortuous bedtime routine. There are only so many times you can say "please lie down," and only so long you can cuddle a squirming, flipping, kicking child before you feel like screaming "Oh, put yourself to sleep!", running down the hall and crying in your room…kind of like a toddler. (This is similar to the feeling you get from saying "on your bum" 7,000 times in 10 minutes, but that's another story.)
So what am I going to do to calm my nerves for when my preschooler flies off the handle and, sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, starts hitting me and when I hold his hands and calmly say "We don't hit," starts kicking me? Well, a couple of sun salutations each morning sure aren't cutting it. I may have to move in to a Buddhist monastery to study meditation for so long that the hitting phase has passed.
I'm sure there are people reading this who are struggling with the same issue. And this is one of those mom things that isn't talked about much, like how incredibly difficult breastfeeding can be or how lonely and strange the first few months of baby's life can be. But I've been candid with a few friends and don't worry, other people feel the same way. You think you're a mature, controlled adult who has your emotions under control and then a small person who's supposed to love and revere you, slaps you in the face and all of a sudden, it's like you're fighting a hand that's no longer under your control. You almost have to grab your own wrist to stop the backlash.
So here's the thing: As adults, we've had 20, 30 or more years of practice with this controlling our temper thing and yet, one slap from a toddler and we're seeing red. Imagine what it's like to be a three-year-old, for whom being told that he just ate the last animal cracker is a travesty worthy of a tantrum. Now throw in potty training and embarrassing accidents (when was the last time you peed your pants at the grocery store?), going to preschool or kindergarten where you're expected to listen, behave and be friends with 15 or 30 other kids who are also all jerks, contradictory and confusing information (mama says that pink is for boys and girls but Sally says that pink is only for girls) and new siblings who hog your mother, your up until recently best friend and constant companion.
Now add to that a whole new awareness but not full comprehension of feelings, both emotions and pain. My three-year-old loves to make different faces and have me guess the emotion. He has told me that anger feels like he has to poo. Does that mean that pooping makes him angry or that when he's angry he gets a tummy ache? No idea. Oh, and then there's the fact that toddlers have little to no impulse control, which means that they've followed their fight or flight reflex and their hand has made contact with their infant brother's soft spot before they even realize that they've done it.
So all of this is what I plan to think about every time I'm fighting to restrain myself. If it's this hard for me not to hit or yell—or run, hitting and yelling from my house and down the street—just imagine how hard it is for my kid. Because at the end of the day, he is my kid and I love him more than I ever imagined I would and it's my job to show him how reasonable people act. Even if I don't always feel like one.