Monday, October 17, 2011

Developing a "Hands Off" Policy

My parents claim they hit me only once when I was about two. I continued to touch the radio after I was told not to. They swear this was the first and last time they ever laid a hand on me and since I have no memory of that or any other incident thereafter, I believe them. I don't know of any other new parents who hit their kids, though I'm sure no one would talk about it if they were. We live in a time where child services is on everyone's speed dial and bringing food into schools that may contain traces of peanut can be considered child abuse. But many people still believe in this method and that its something as a parent you "should" or "need" to do at some point.

I'm learning quickly that having a toddler is a daily test as to whether or not you can keep it together and not become slap happy. Its the age when the kid wants to do his or her own thing, never stays still and you become a diaper changing ninja, shocking friends with your lighting speed. Its also emotionally and physically challenging being you are fighting a more limber, agile version of yourself with the same fiery intent of getting your way.

We found my daughter to really be at her worst around mealtime, when she decides to throw her food on the floor. After ignoring "no" a few hundred times during a recent feeding, I softly slapped her hand. This wasn't working so I slapped her hand again and again. I grew angrier and slapped harder until she stopped smiling as if to say, "Wait a minute this may not be a game." I started to swell with pride, considering I may have won. I was disgusted with myself. Victory can't come with pain to my child! Who had I, a counselor for years, become in this moment?

That night my husband and I discussed a "hands off" policy. We agreed it would be too easy to channel our frustrations with childrearing, lack of sleep, job related stress, and everything else into a slap on the hand or butt. I certainly understand how other parents can lose it, but there has to be a better way, a more creative way to discipline a child.

Its been a daily challenge but I am committed to our rule and so I have started to think outside the box. Now when she gives me a hard time on the changing table I show her how to make shadows with her hand on the wall or tickle her tummy. If that doesn't work, I just give her a minute to freak out and start over. When it comes to lunch and dinner time I realized my approach was totally wrong. I was telling her that food stays "on the table" but never taught her what the table was. So now we point to the food and the table. And when the message doesn't sink in, she understands that throwing food means I push her high chair away from the table until she is ready.

My husband and I are both working hard to be more effective and authoritative in a nurturing way and there are still those moments when we are near the edge. But just last night, my daughter confirmed that our positive actions are slowly taking affect. After telling her over and over again that we weren't going to read another book at bedtime, she got pissed and had her little meltdown. Seconds later, after she figured out she wasn't getting her way, she snuggled into me, looked up and gave me a kiss.

I see that many lessons about what is right and wrong are hard to learn as a child and respect for your parents is something earned. As my parents did, I've made the choice to teach these things in a way that may take longer but will make my family happy and strong. Just as she began to crawl and pick up toys, my daughter will slowly master these things. And one day, she will understand that though these lessons were difficult to learn, they were even harder to teach.


  1. it's so funny that you mention the "throwing food" game and how it brought you to the slap on the hand. i JUST had the same thing happen to me a few days ago, and i was horrified that i went there afterwards. i've been trying the technique for weeks of taking the food away when he throws it, but it didn't seem to be making an impact and i lost it.

    i think we just have to remind ourselves that they are so young and are not doing these things to intentionally push our buttons. they're exploring their surroundings and having fun doing it. and like you said, it will take time and patience to teach them manners, but in the meantime, we just have to watch them enjoy being babies.

  2. I am not sure how young your little one is, but throwing food onto the floor is not a major calamity. She is working on cause/effect, the concept of gravity, using fine motor skills and a bevy of other developmental necessities that are often overlooked. Unless she is eating in a high chair that is situated atop a fine Persian rug there is no reason for a quick and furious response. If, on the other hand, she is eating on said rug then she should be given 10 lashings with a wet noodle.

    I doubt that allowing her to have a little fun at food time will lead her to one day needing the assistance of Henry Higgins, or God forbid, Richard Gere. It may be frustrating to pick up a few pieces of food from the floor, but it doesn't mean that this will spiral out of control and she will continue to do this until she is thirty or even three for that matter. Indeed, like everything else in their little minds the novelty will wear off.

    With that being said, this does not apply to throwing: knives, ninja stars, sand or blocks at the other children. That should be avoided at all costs. :)