One of my biggest hot buttons with Elisabeth is when she is hurtful to someone or some thing. Often it’s our oldest dog, Baci. Soon after Elisabeth turned two, she started to become aware of the power differential among our dogs and how that applied to her. I never really got the expression, “she saw red,” until I caught Elisabeth trying to pull Baci’s tail. But before dinner a few days ago, Elisabeth was tired and starting to lose a grip a little. I could see the exhaustion and impatience unfolding but we were headed inside in a few minutes so I thought we’d stick it out. Until she started waving a plastic shovel around and hit Joshua.
Joshua, a beloved neighbor who shares everything with Elisabeth, is about 5 months younger than she. Good natured and patient, he takes her grabbing his own toys away from him in stride. Perhaps this is all the more reason why I went from bored to livid in about 5 seconds. It’s not the first time Elisabeth has hit Joshua and while it wasn’t exactly an attack, it was deliberate. The first time this happened, I was literally struck dumb. It seemed impossible. I couldn’t believe that my child would deliberately hit another child.
This time, however, I remembered what I had read to do when your child hits or injures another child: I turned to Joshua and asked if he was okay*. He started to cry and even wobbled a little closer to me. His dad came over and comforted him. I turned to Elisabeth. I told her that she must never hit anyone, ever and asked if she had something to say to Baby. [She has started saying, “I’m sorry,” periodically when she knows she has done something wrong so I thought I would give her the opportunity here.] But Elisabeth was silent as she stood there holding the shovel. I told her we were going inside and she started to cry. I apologized to Baby’s dad and we left.
We talked a little bit about what happened over dinner. I suggested we bring some muffins over to Joshua and family if we saw them after dinner. We dropped the muffins on the porch with a note.
Until two days later when Elisabeth and I went outside after dinner. She has the toddler habit of talking out loud to herself, just whatever is on her mind. It’s just fascinating to listen to. I usually don’t have the opportunity to capture any of it. But this time I did. This is what I wrote down:
Elisabeth: (wandering around the corner of the house) “There is where I hit Joshua.”
Me: “How does that make you feel?”
Elisabeth: “It’s not good.”
Elisabeth: (pause) “With this shovel.”
Elisabeth: (pause) “No tweaking no biting no hitting.”
Elisabeth: (pause) “I’m sorry Joshua.”
Elisabeth: (pause) “I waved it around. It’s not good to Joshua or Gina.”
Elisabeth: “That’s not good.”
Elisabeth: (pause) “Or Caleb or Richard.”
Me: “What else do you have to say about that?”
Elisabeth: “I’m sorry.
I say, I’m sorry Joshua.”
And then it was over. Elisabeth started chalking and I showed my husband what I had wrote down when he came out. “Wow,” he said.
With my background, it’s hard for me to put hitting in perspective. Elisabeth’s stream of consciousness processing above helps, though. Domestic violence abusers don’t take responsibility for their actions. She may only a little over 2 years old but Elisabeth clearly knows what she did was wrong. I doubt this hitting incident will be the last. Toddlers aren’t known for their mediation skills. And we sure are still in the thick of toddlerhood here.
But I do take away two things that feel important to me. One is a reminder of how my history influences my thinking and behavior with my child. Tracy Cassels talks about this over at Evolutionary Parenting periodically (here’s one good article) as does Daniel Siegel in Parenting From The Inside Out. So crucial for parents to be aware of. I forget it periodically. The second is that while Elisabeth may not be able to say “I’m sorry,” in the moment, she can say it later and mean it. That is so important to me. Hearing her process out loud is oddly reassuring. It feels developmentally appropriate and right on so many levels.
It’s hard to know how best to respond in any given situation. As a mom, it feels like there is even more at risk than there might normally be. Maybe next time I will do something differently. Or maybe Elisabeth will. We’ll see.
*Apparently you are supposed to attend to the injured child before addressing the incident with your own. Not sure if this helped or hurt but I gave it a try.